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Darfur Refugee Waits for Life to Begin Again


A deadly armed conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan has left hundreds of thousands dead, and millions more displaced. For many people who have fled the violence, moving on can be difficult. Kari Barber has more from the Ngor area of Senegal's capital, Dakar, where she met one man, who like many other refugees, is far from home and trying to figure out what to do next with his life.

In a one-room cement hut, Adama Abdallah organizes documents requesting refugee status in Senegal or in the West and letters to aid organization, asking for help finding his wife and the four children he left behind when he fled Darfur in 1998.

Abdallah left after his brother, an army colonel, was killed.

"When I left, it was very difficult the day I left my children, because the Janjaweed and the Sudanese government were attacking Darfur, around the capital Nyala," he said.

Abdallah says normally he would have taken his children, but he couldn't that day. He says his father said to leave the country quickly, because the army would kill him next.

He describes what he remembers:

"All of the people dying, all driven away, the killing, the villages - all the fires, the situation in Darfur today, now everybody knows," he recalled.

Abdallah was granted refugee status in Nigeria, but he says he found it unsafe and settled instead in Senegal.

He says there is not much work for him here.

With his hands, Abdallah sifts gravel out of the sand around his hut to sell to construction companies.

He says if he does this all day, he can earn $1, but work is slowing as he has already sifted most of the rocks out.

"Now, at 53 years, I am an old man. I cannot get hard [labor] jobs, hard jobs like building houses," he says. "It is very difficult. I cannot get jobs at all here."

Abdallah does not speak Wolof or French, the major languages here. He says he is lonely, he has not met another Sudanese since he arrived in 2002.

"I do not see Sudanese people, nobody at all here. Nobody here. I am the only one," he says.

Abdallah says he moved into the cement shell that was formerly the toilet for a construction company, because it is across the street from the offices of several major international bodies. He says he hopes they will not forget about him.

Djibril Balde works at WARIPNET, a refugee aid organization in Dakar. He says asylum seekers like Abdallah cannot receive assistance from major aid organizations until the country where they are living grants them refugee status, and that can take years.

"This is a very big problem," he explained. "I think all of the asylum seekers living in Senegal are facing these same difficulties. Last year about 100 refugees from Congo, Rwanda and Chad left Senegal for other African countries, because they stayed here for many years without any status or assistance."

Abdallah reviews his documents again, making sure they are in order so he will be ready if a call comes that his family has been located or that he has been granted refugee status.

He says he is waiting for the day when his life can move forward.