Saturday, July 02, 2005

Kalma camp is still the hot topic here in South Darfur. Everyone has their own opinion as to what will happen, and even these keep shifting with each new development. Last night, some sort of public transport travelling close to the site of the proposed new camp (Al Salam) was attacked, and four people were killed. Not exactly the sort of thing that the Sudanese government, which continues to deny reports of increasing insecurity, wants to hear right now.

Squashed into our little ‘humanitarian-and-NOT-political’ corner by the belligerent Sudanese authorities, NGOs in South Darfur are painstakingly - almost endearingly - persisting with the ‘information campaign’ and the whole idea of peaceful, voluntary relocation to the new camp. Some are organising friendly ‘go and see’ visits in which the displaced families can hop on a bus and tour the site – there is even a display of the type of tent that will be available (a waterproof one! Treated with mosquito spray!)

The problem is that while we are allowed to brief people on the risk of cholera, malaria, overflowing toilets and flooding, we cannot talk about the real threat - which is that the army might come into the camp, shoot their guns in the air, and force everyone onto trucks - "for their own safety".

In any case, most aid workers realise that the concept of an impartial information campaign is completely foreign to the displaced communities to start off with: for decades, these people have been sidelined, oppressed and manipulated by their rulers, and the thought that they might be allowed to make an informed decision based on clear, credible information just seems to them like another big ruse. No one has systematically and reliably protected them over the past two years. Why should they trust anything that ANYONE tells them now?

People's main concern, pure and simple, is to stay alive. And if the government makes no attempt to reign in those responsible for the violence, the horrible situation on the ground is unlikely to change, in Kalma or elsewhere.

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