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Displaced Sudanese Suffer in New Camp

Thousands of people displaced by Sudan's 21-year civil war have been affected by a land re-planning campaign in Khartoum. Aid workers say land in and around the capital city has been earmarked for development since the signing of a January peace accord between north and south Sudan. The Sudan government is unavailable for comment. But with the relocations, displaced people have been moved from ramshackle, but substantial camps, into flimsy shacks in remote desert areas.

The wind is strong in the desert 70 kilometers outside Khartoum where 170 southern Sudanese families have been re-located to a remote camp called Al Fatah III. Their former home, Sheikan, was a refugee camp, but Sheikan had services.

Residents of Al Fatah camp are frustrated and furious. Their children are not in school, and critically for these impoverished people there is no transportation to take them into the city for work. The few buses are a long walk away, and the cost of the trip is too expensive for most, so many have lost their jobs.

Yacob Suleiman had a good job with a hospital in Khartoum, but he lost it after he was moved to Al Fatah in April.

"We were all working inside of the city," he said. "And then we were all came here. No one could reach work until 10 or 12 o'clock so they fired everyone. Even those people working for the government were fired. I was working in the Chinese hospital and they fired me."

The government of Khartoum has made no official statement on why Sheikan camp was cleared and government officials remain unavailable for comment.

But aid workers suggest that Sheikan camp was cleared partially because land values in and around Khartoum have risen since the signing of a January peace accord that ended 21 years of civil war between north and south Sudan.

Gizenga Willow Yamba works with the Fellowship for African Relief within the camp.

"There are categories of land. There is a category, which is considered a commercial piece of land. So if a person happens to be on a piece of plot on a commercialized place this means that he has to pay," he explained. "Some areas are considered as areas for other services, for football stadiums, for business projects. The fact that the town has been growing, you can see the changes in the town. Also it has to do with the improvement of the land. But of course, the concern is with how it is being done. Should there be any re-planning the concern is that it should be done in a way that is humane."

The Sudanese government has a legal right to relocate displaced people. But displaced families are often moved suddenly, without prior notice, and in Al Fatah they have been moved to a place where even the most basic services do not exist.

Estella Khamis clutched her sobbing infant son, and said that he has been sick, and that she is scared.

"Since they brought us here, nobody has cared for us," she said. "If a person is pregnant and she has pain, there is no doctor nearby. If your baby has an infection it is too far to take him to the hospital. It is too far and it costs £3,000 (pounds) to reach transport. If you leave your shack, the wind blows it away."

The complaints center on the lack of services. There is no school, there is little water. When the rains do come they flood the camp. Camp residents told VOA that the land is infested with snakes and scorpions. They told of a little girl who was recently bitten by a scorpion and died within minutes. The doctors were simply too far away.

Most camp residents say they have a solution.

Peter Yok, who has been living in the camp for seven months, says the war-torn south is open for return and they want to go home.

"I have been here since March," said Mr. Yok. "Sometimes there is food, sometimes there is not. We do not want to stay in this place. We just want to go back to the south. Can you foreigners help us? Just give us cars to go to the south. It is better if the United Nations brings us things in the south, rather than bringing them here. We do not want this place at all."

The residents of Al Fatah want transport. They want to go to work in the city. They want to return to the south. But children and adults are unsure how long they will inhabit the unforgiving desert.