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Sudan: UN Hopes To Restore Stability, Refugees Still Miserable in Camps

Rebecca Jovin, Office of Sudan Programs Group
Washington, DC
January 23, 2008

Refuge women in refuge camp December 8, 2007 in Darfur, Sudan. [AP photo]

Rebecca Jovin, a member of the Sudan Programs Group for the U.S. Department of State, writes about her recent visit to Sudan.

I just returned from Darfur where I was following up on the January 1 transfer of about $40 million in U.S. Government equipment to the new UN peacekeeping force known as UNAMID.

There is a lot of activity these days in El Fasher, North Darfur's remote, dusty capital. In fact, the once-sleepy city of about 200,000 is booming: new hotels and houses are being built all around town, the downtown market is growing and they're putting street lights along the main road. UNAMID's presence in town remains limited, but it's clear everybody expects a surge of people over the coming weeks and months. UN Resolution 1769, which established the peacekeeping force last July, calls for 26,000 troops and police to be in Darfur when UNAMID is at full force -- the largest peacekeeping operation ever deployed. Right now, UNAMID has about 9,000 personnel in Darfur, an area about the size of France.

Although El Fasher is thriving, hundreds of thousands of Darfuris are still living in IPD camps -- often using plastic sheeting for shelter -- just miles from the downtown area. Their lives are still miserable -- driven from their homes and hampered by interethnic fighting and lawlessness on the ground. Many hope the UN peacekeepers will help improve the security situation and bring stability to the region.

I had the chance to travel outside of El Fasher as well. One day we flew up to Millit, one of the 34 base camps the USG initially built for the African Union (AMIS) peacekeepers who are now part of UNAMID. I accompanied one of the Technical Advisory Teams (TATs) our government has provided to help the transition from AMIS to UNAMID, and advise UNAMID personnel on camp management. These TATs are essentially small teams of contractors who advise UNAMID personnel on how to keep the camps running, including how to maintain the power, the sanitation, and the communications equipment.

In Zam Zam, I saw new tents and facilities that USG contractors had built back in 2007 to house additional peacekeepers. And we turned over a large donation of equipment to Brig. General Eze, a Nigerian camp commander under UNAMID.

In Nyala, Chinese engineers and Bangadeshi police units were on the ground. When I visited, the Chinese had not yet started building one of the “supercamps” the UN will use during this large peacekeeping mission, but I did see them unpacking newly arrived containers and checking on construction equipment.

In addition to traveling out to Darfur, I also spent several days in the capital city of Khartoum. It was a sad atmosphere due to the tragic killing of USAID employees John Granville and Abdelrahman Abbas on New Year's Day. I had the opportunity to be in Khartoum for a memorial service held in honor of John and Abdelrahman and to hear touching personal accounts from friends and colleagues, who knew and loved both of them. John and Abdelrahman will be missed, and we all continue to hope that the Sudanese investigations will shed some light on this horrific event.


Matt in California writes:

I am glad that you have taken a stand (such as it is) in Darfur. But you seem not to understand the enormity of the problem we face. We defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan, yet are protecting an almost equally evil and oppressive Muslim government in Kabul. You, the state department, are pushing for a Muslim state in Serbia. And today I read in the Times that when an American woman was humiliated and abused by the cursed religious police in Saudi Arabia you did nothing. My God! What is the point of having a state department? It's like you've decided to help our enemy, the Muslims, even if it means an American woman is brutalized by pseudo-religious thugs. Shame on you.

Posted on Wed Feb 06, 2008

Natasha in Texas writes:

I was deeply upset to hear this morning about the events that are unfolding in Chad. Chadian rebels attacked UN camps in eastern Chad this past week that are serving refugees from the Darfur region. Then today, the rebels have attempted, since this morning, to overtake the palace and government in the capital city of N'Djamena. Americans and innocent civilians are in terrible danger, now, in the midst of fighting between the rebels and the Chadian government.

I urge the State Department to take decisive and quick action today to help American human rights activists and others that are trapped in the middle of the fighting in N'Djamena. Members of the organization Stop Genocide Now have been unable to leave a hotel adjacent to the palace that is under attack. They have called for the U.S. embassy's help but haven't received it yet.


Posted on Sat Feb 02, 2008

Geoff in Virginia writes:

President Bush in his State of the Union address mentioned Sudan. I have read of the terrible situation facing these people in a novel entitled _What is the What_. This is a must read and truly amazing what the human spirit can endure. I would hope and trust the U.S. is after more than oil in this region and committed to returning these people to some sort of normalcy.

Posted on Thu Jan 31, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

The sanity of nations will be questioned long after genocide stalked the wasteland and the wind will forever whisper, "Too little, too late."

Posted on Wed Jan 30, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:
Those who create the refugee problem, and those who attack the refugees, seek to maintain high-levels of anger, suffering, frustration, and the inability to recover. Your programs need to help change this focus by working on all aspects of every problem. Evil conquers most often with the Chaotic use of force and to extremes. The type of affront they cast is an abstract and as many dictators have found, the only way to deal with an abstract is to eliminate it.
Back in the 80's I was throughout Africa, from Libya on. I sat in on more than one security operation to deliver food, helped run electrical wire to huts, which were kept cleaner than some American homes even with dirt floors and developed a sincere respect for efforts of all involved to amicably deliver and build infrastructure and correct the many problems found throughout Africa.

Unfortunately, the only correction to the problems stemming from the insecure nature developed, seemed to me to be accomplished by military means. Even then Professional outsourced Soldiers were used to deliver food and I sat in on more than one operation with the Swede, but with the DOD as oversight and a DDS. We were ambushed a few times and the food was delivered only because of the use of force. I say this only due to the fact you cannot maintain a constant defensive posture to develop a secure social structure where there are so many variables and lack of provisional forces. The resisting men were killed or maimed and only women and children are left to fight. You cannot externally develop security when dealing with such mindsets and armed militias.

The real issue: Control is maintained by false leadership by continued provisions as, arms, which are provided to both elements more often than not by them or third party interest. The weapons do not enter these countries because the leadership is trying to stop them, they can only enter because they let them. Be it in fear or corruption, the only way to develop neutrality is for the World Court to hold the Leadership 100% responsible at the upper echelons and eliminate all elements which are non-productive to social development at the bottom end. The middle will then fill in with the humanistic efforts.

We hold ourselves to a higher standard; but, there are times when a firmer hand is needed to promote democracy and human dignity in this world. The concept of a World Peace oriented by Military force is often viewed as Evil, but the reality of the world as it exist may lead to such as it seems in over twenty years I know of that every reasonable, educated, well orchestrated venue has failed in almost part of Africa.

The shortest distance between two points of reference is a straight line is it not? Why over complicate it? To prove we are more civilized while more people die and suffer?

What's more important in values? Peace, human dignity or how civilized and educated we appear as a species in decision making to reach that goal to promote a political preference agenda?

Since Peace and Human dignity for all is the optimum goal of civilization, it would make the time frame of attempts an effort of Vanity rather than a productive construct for building.

Posted on Sat Jan 26, 2008

Dan in Oklahoma writes:


Over the years, I directed several assistance efforts for refugee projects in areas with high levels of conflict.

The lessons I learned may be of value as you struggle to assist refugees in Darfur. My lessons learned are as follows:

1) Those who create the refugee problem, and those who attack the refugees, seek to maintain high-levels of anger, suffering, frustration, and the inability to recover. Your programs need to help change this focus by working on all aspects of every problem.

2) Security is almost always an issue: Refugee camps must be fully secured, supply trucks protected, and relief personnel provided with constant safety. (The best security often comes from doing what the adversary least expects.)

3) During most relief and redevelopment operations, there are seldom enough skilled people in the right place at the right time, to provide the needed support/ training. Radio Schools should be used to teach refugees self-help techniques by means of instruction via radio programs. Thus, your best people safely provide the best instruction many places at the same time.

4) As soon as possible, get all the parties together and help them help you identify the real basis of conflict.

5) Lobby and undertake political action to help assure that peacekeepers, such as UNAMID, have sufficient forces, support, and authority to keep the peace.

6) Start and sustain effective redevelopment efforts as soon as possible. Get the refugees back the area of their villages ---or move them to safe areas where they can start new villages, farms, and cottage industries.

7) Provide refugees with simple forms of emergency communications so they may request help, if attacked, on an immediate basis.

8) Since rape is often being used as a weapon against refugee populations, tactics known to defend against rape should be taught to all refugees.

9) UNAMID forces should engage in civic action, or support for redevelopment, at the same time security efforts are being undertaken.

I am certain that you will need to do more than what is listed above, but those are the basics. For ideas on self-help projects, Radio Schools, and safety programs, please visit the website for NPI, our diversified charity long experienced in refugee resettlement. NPI's website is: http://www.needfulprovision.org.  All the best.

Posted on Thu Jan 24, 2008

David in U.S. writes:


I greatly appreciate your efforts and your sacrifice. U.S. and UN efforts, in Darfur, are late in coming and damage from the genocide there has already been horrific. Problems between the brown nomads and black villagers are more than about religious war (jihad), or control of territory. One of the major causes was (and is) the lack of sufficient rainfall and productive land to support crop and grass production at the same time. With the recent discovery of significant, new underground water resources (in Darfur), it may now be possible to start drip-irrigation projects (for crops and grass) that would remove one "point-of-friction." The faster you can get refugees back to their village areas, the sooner conflict(s) will be reduced -- and fewer refugees, and fewer refugee camps, means far less frustration for all concerned. All the best!

Posted on Wed Jan 23, 2008

SNP in Syria writes:

How lucky those Darfuri Sudanese are, so much attention from the world's governments is paid to their self inflicted suffering, contrast that with the millions who died from hunger (not strife) in the seventies and eighties in Sudan and in Ethiopia, no one cared back then (except the Bee Gees and we are the world gang). Although look for hidden hand in the initiation of this Darfur conflict, a standard Western colonialist tactic; starts an ethnic civil strife, call in the U.N. to temporarily hold the resources out till the colonialists have time to look at worlds map and strike a bargain, then the UN will hands out the land to the puppet leader who will be named, supported by the colonialist as long as he hands out the resources exclusively and of course the nation cash treasury (Suharto, for one example of hundreds, this dude going to the grave with 15 billion dollars stolen from his straw hut nation). It happened in hundreds of countries since the inception of the U.N. predecessor by the famed Wilson.

Imagine if oil was not discovered in their region and China not competing for the resources with European and U.S. oil companies, they will be living for the next 60 years just like the Palestinians are in living hell daily and no one cares.

Posted on Wed Jan 23, 2008

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