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Camps for Darfur Displaced Becoming Like Home


The international community is pressing the parties in Sudan's Darfur conflict to implement a peace deal signed last month, and end three years of conflict that has displaced millions. For some of the displaced, life in what were set up as temporary camps has taken on a sense of permanence.

A dozen women are taking turns drawing water from a well, using a heavy hand pump. It is no easy task, but there is not one complaint.

Although they live in a camp for Darfuris displaced by a violent war, these women are comparatively lucky.

Foreign dollars have put this well in the ground, causing envy among residents of nearby El Fasher city, who complain that their water is not as good as the water from the well in the camp.

Aid workers here say it is not unusual for those in cities to envy the services that aid groups provide to displaced people.

But Khalil Tukras, a Sudanese aid worker, says the availability of those amenities could have another, unintended consequence. Tukras says he is concerned that the facilities offered at the camp will entice the displaced to stay in the camps, even after peace has come.

"They come here, and after a long period of suffering, they find there is very good services in the camps, especially the women," he said. "In the past, they [carry] water for a long distance. They are suffering a lot. They spend most of their time to bring water for six or seven hours distance. Now, they are in the camp, they find there is a lot of water, there is a good kind of health provided, there are fine schools."

Tukras says he estimates that 50 to 60 percent of the displaced will not return home from Abu Shouk camp.

This month marks two years since then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited the Abu Shouk camp and said security must be dealt with to allow the displaced to be able to return to their homes. Two years later, they are still waiting.

Abu Shouk, which houses about 40,000 displaced, is known as one of the best, in terms of facilities and security.

There are schools for the children, food is fairly regular and security is tight.

After three years of living in limbo, people at Abu Shouk say they want nothing more than to return home.

But it is difficult to ignore the benefits of camp life.

Isaac Mohamed is a farmer, who has lived here for three years. He does not live in a shack like tens-of-thousands of more recently displaced Darfuris.

He lives in a sturdy brick house that he has built himself. He says it cannot replace his home, which was burned by militias, known as janjaweed, but it will do for now.

Asked to name the biggest problem at Abu Shouk, he says, there are no problems.

"I swear, when my area is stable, I will go home," he said. "But, if it is not stable, I can't go. When the peace agreement is signed, I can return to my farm and start raising my cattle again."

A peace agreement has been signed by the government of Sudan and one faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army. But two other groups have refused to sign, and there has been a surge of violence, as rival factions battle for advantage, following the signing of the accord.

Many at Abu Shouk say they will only go home when the region is stable.

And if stability is long in coming?

One young mother told VOA, "Our children will inherit this camp."