The Krinding displacement camp in Sudan once provided refuge for thousands of people fleeing conflict in the country’s war-torn Darfur region. For Abdelsalam and his family, it was home.
Now the camp, which stretches several kilometres on the outskirts of the city of Geneina, in the state of West Darfur, resembles a ghost town. It’s filled with ruined houses.
“I had a happy life, and now this is all I have left,” Abdelsalam said during a visit to the camp in March, as he lifted the charred roof of what used to be his own dwelling.
Abdelsalam, whom The Globe and Mail is identifying only by his first name because he fears retribution for speaking publicly, is among more than 2.5 million people displaced by the Darfur war, which has lasted for almost two decades.
More than 300,000 lives have been lost since the conflict began in 2003, when ethnic African groups rebelled against then-Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir’s Arab-dominated government. Darfur’s African tribes accused Mr. al-Bashir and his administration of favouring the interests of Arab communities in the region. In response, Mr. al-Bashir supported Arab militias, who pursued an ethnic cleansing campaign that targeted non-Arab civilians accused of supporting the rebels.
In January, 2021, an attack on the Krinding camp by militiamen associated with the Arab Rizeigat tribe marked a worrying escalation of the conflict. More than 160 people died in the massacre, and the militiamen burned homes. Almost a third of the camp was reduced to ashes.
This is when Abdelsalam’s home was destroyed. He and his family were caught up in the violence.
“Bullets were flying around me. They tried to kill us but we managed to reach Geneina,” the 24-year-old said. He is still traumatized by what he experienced that night.
The Krinding camp attack, and other massacres that followed, unfolded despite the Juba Peace Agreement, an accord signed by Sudan’s transitional government and many of the country’s warring factions after the fall of Mr. al-Bashir in 2019. It was supposed to end the Darfur war and bring peace to the troubled region.
But the agreement has yet to be fully implemented. Instead, insecurity and violence continue to plague the region, putting civilians’ lives in danger.
The latest incident, which occurred between June 6 and 11 in the town of Kulbus and neighbouring villages in West Darfur, left at least 125 people dead and 33,000 displaced, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Most of the victims of the attack, which was carried out by the same militia behind the massacre at Krinding, were reportedly from the ethnic-African Gimir community.
In April, more than 200 people were killed in clashes between an Arab community and the non-Arab Massalit minority in the Kreinik area of West Darfur. The United Nations estimated more than 86,000 people were displaced in that incident.
Tensions even spilled into the Geneina Teaching Hospital, where those who were injured in the clashes were treated for their wounds.
Mohamed, a surgeon at the hospital, whom The Globe is identifying only by his first name because he also fears retribution, said attacks have happened there repeatedly.
“Conflicts have already broken out in the emergency room itself, with bullets flying in the courtyard,” he said.
The hospital has had to assign patients to separate buildings based on their ethnicity or tribe. “If we have to treat a wounded Arab, we call in an Arab consultant to avoid reprisals. Armed men have already come to threaten us in the middle of an operation,” the exhausted doctor added.
Insecurity has also increased in Darfur’s main towns, like El Fasher in North Darfur.
“Every day, we hear stories of robberies, crimes or rapes in the street,” said Mohamed Taha, a lawyer with the Sudanese Association for Transitional Justice.
“There is no authority anymore. Everyone does what they want, and no one is held responsible.”
The lack of law enforcement in El Fasher forced the United Nations World Food Programme to close its operations there temporarily, following a series of attacks in December, 2021, and looting of all three of its warehouses.
“It was organized. They came with trucks and lifts, and left with five thousand tonnes of foodstuffs,” said Baker Mukeere, a local official with the UN agency. “The operation took two days and two nights without the police or the army intervening.”
The Juba Agreement, which was signed in Oct. 2020, covers a wide range of issues, including governance and a transitional justice process to address human rights abuses.
To strengthen security in Darfur and protect civilians, the agreement provided for the deployment of a 12,000-strong joint force made up of members of the Sudanese army and the various armed groups that participated in the deal.
To this day, the armed groups are still waiting to be integrated into the force, and Darfuris have yet to benefit from its protection. “On the ground, nothing has been implemented,” said Mohamed Abubakar, a spokesperson for the governor of West Darfur. “Every Darfuri wants the conflict to end, but we have no support from the state.”
Eldai Ishag, general of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA-KA), one of the rebel groups that signed the Juba Agreement, was similarly dejected. “We are stuck in our barracks because we are not allowed to control the borders and we cannot patrol the cities to secure the citizens,” he said.
Meanwhile, those displaced from Krinding, Abdelsalam among them, have taken refuge in municipal buildings in Geneina. Some 100,000 internally displaced people are sheltering there. But it’s no substitute for the lifestyle they were once accustomed to in the camp, where they had stable homes, jobs and community.
“We are tired. Our life is boring. We have no money, no security. People are suffering a lot here,” Abdelsalam said.
He now lives with his family on the grounds of Dar Masalit, a local primary school, among 2,000 other people who have also sought shelter there. The displaced Darfuris, mainly farmers, have no resources to support themselves, and they depend on food aid.
“We are lost. No one here believes in the Juba Agreement anymore,” said Abdelsalam’s mother, her fatigue showing on her face.
That sense of helplessness has led some to seek return to Krinding. Suleiman Ali Adam, a pharmacist, decided to go back with his family five months ago. “Our life is here, but everything is missing – water, education, services,” he lamented in front of his dispensary, which still bears scars left by bullets.
While he has decided to stay put for now, others who have returned are regretting their decisions to do so.
“Most people are already starting to return to Geneina because of the lack of security,” said Bashir Omer, a local official from the UN’s International Organization for Migration.
That feeling of insecurity is reinforced by the dysfunction of the judicial system in the region. “The government does not care about justice. In West Darfur there is no public prosecutor and very few judges,” said Mohamed Al Doma, the former governor of West Darfur.
On Jan. 4, 2021, seven people who had filed complaints following the attack on the Krinding camp and 21 witnesses were murdered after a prosecutor leaked their identities. “There is a real sense of impunity,” said Mr. Al Doma, who is now a board member of the Darfur Bar Association. “If the perpetrators of violence and massacres are not tried, what is to stop them from doing it again?”
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