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Longing for home as IDP camp life toughens

3/6 9:01pm

KHARTOUM, 21 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - At dawn every morning, a number of women leave Mayo-Madela internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp in search of odd jobs within the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. Those who clean houses earn 150 Sudanese dinars a day (US $0.50).

The majority of the women are Dinka IDPs from the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan state, some living in the camp for the past 20 years.

"The situation has become much harder, especially for the most vulnerable groups, resulting in an increased willingness of many to return [to their homes]," Ann Kristin Brunborg, programme coordinator of the sustainable returns team at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Khartoum, told IRIN on 13 December. "They just can't stand it anymore."

Karak Mayik Nyok, executive director of a local NGO, the Friendship Agency for Community Training (FACT), said the wish to return to the Nuba Mountains area had increased with the end of the rainy season and a decrease in fighting in the south.

Many IDPs were affected by recent demolitions of their homes. Quite a number have already decided to return to their southern roots. Every other week, a bus carrying returnees roars down from Khartoum headed for the Nuba Mountains.

Karak Mayik Nyok executive director of FACT in Mayo-Mandela.
Credit: IRIN
According to OCHA, an estimated 360,000 IDPs had returned to the southern areas during 2004, the majority coming from the Khartoum area. They have returned to places such as Kosti, Bentiu, Juba and Malakal.

Still, it has not been very safe for those who ventured to take the trip.

Sources in Khartoum said in March 2003, a group of 15 families from Mayo tried to return to the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) controlled area of Unku. Upon arrival in Pariang, 100 km away, they learned Unku was too unsafe.

IDP camps around Khartoum

Mayo is one of the major IDP camps around Khartoum - the others are El Salaam and Wad El Bashir, near Omdurman in the north. In the camp, one-story, mud-brick structures stretch in every direction, as far as the eye can see.

"The camps house hundreds of thousands of people, primarily displaced from war-torn southern Sudan, but also from Darfur and refugees from Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda," Maghoub Mostafa, protection officer for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, told IRIN on 16 November in Khartoum.

Between 100,000 and 200,000 people are estimated to live in Mayo camp, including 14,000 households with an average of six persons per family, according to figures provided by the Mayo Public Committee, which registers IDPs in the camp.

To the north of Khartoum, El Salaam - or "Peace" - camp houses approximately 120,000 residents, while Wad El Bashir camp hosts 75,000.

Makeshift shelters on leveled section of El Salaam camp.
Credit: IRIN
There are nearly 900,000 IDPs living in four IDP-designated camps and 15 squatter areas around Khartoum. OCHA estimated that the total number of Khartoum IDPs could be 1.8 million, some of who were integrated into host communities.


Since mid-2003, however, the authorities have bulldozed thousands of mud-brick houses in the camps in El Salaam and Wad El Bashir.

A government official, who declined to be named, said the demolitions were part of a larger replanning programme that is meant to provide plots for residents and bring them vital services such as electricity and water.

Out of the 12 blocks in El Salaam camp, each containing about 2,270 houses, nine blocks were destroyed, according to representatives of five community-based organisations (CBOs) in the camp.

Some 25,000 families had applied for the new government-allocated plots that are expected to replace the area cleared by the demolitions. From these families, 11,000 could afford a plot and had the necessary documents, such as a birth certificate and a medical assessment of age, to make the purchase. However, 6,000 could not afford the costs of constructing a new home.

Partly destroyed El Salaam IDP camp.
Credit: IRIN
"Mayo-Mandela was built on private farmland," Karak Nyok said. "However, the lease is about to expire and many people in the camp fear that their mud houses will soon be destroyed."

Between 2,000 and 2,400 homes were flattened so far, he added.

"The whole process of replanning, demolitions and the re-allocation of new plots has been very open to mismanagement, resulting in many IDPs not getting a plot," Brunborg said. "The demolitions have been badly communicated - the procedures were not very clear or transparent and the prices of the plots continued to change."

According to a humanitarian source in Khartoum, the average price for a plot in El Salaam was 106,916 Sudanese dinars ($414), in Wad El Beshir 189,182 dinars ($732), and in Mayo 279,456 dinars ($1,081).

Services deteriorating

The medical charity, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), operated a clinic and a therapeutic feeding centre in Mayo-Mandela for about 10 years, but pulled out recently, as have many other international relief organisations.

According to local CBO officials in El Salaam, most international NGOs left the camp by 2002.

Planned road will soon destroy this school in El Salaam IDP camp.
Credit: IRIN
Guisma Mohamed Ragano, of Aluifag - the first women's organisation in El Salaam camp - told IRIN that health services had suffered as a result of the withdrawal of international aid organisations.

"Medical services are scarce now and have to be paid for," Ragano said. "In the afternoon, no emergency services are available as the remaining doctors work half-days. There is one nurse who helps with the delivery of the babies of approximately 12,000 families."

Within the camp, there used to be 7,000 latrines - 1 per every 3 families. Now, most of them have been destroyed, leaving most people without access to latrines, CBO officials said.

Umer Anech Mangoui, medical assistant in a supplementary feeding centre in El Beshir camp, told IRIN that following the demolitions of the latrines, sanitation was the biggest health problem in the camp. Malaria was also a big problem.

Recent demolitions of houses had also affected service delivery in the camps. CBO workers said nine school buildings had been destroyed.

Karibuu Duar, of the local CBO Sawa Sava, told IRIN that water provisions had also suffered from the demolitions.

"We had 65 certified water points where people would get their water - now six of the 12 blocks in El Salaam are left without water provision and only get water through the expensive donkey service," Duar said.

In Mayo-Mandela, international NGOs installed 60 water pumps, but 20 of them have broken down since and are in need of repair. Here too, inhabitants increasingly rely on the donkey-water services, which charge between 200-500 dinars ($0.75-$2) per water tank.

According to OCHA, a critical health situation was developing in the IDP camps around Khartoum.

Rebuilding among the rubble in El Salaam camp.
Credit: IRIN

"The latrines and the water infrastructure were heavily affected by the demolitions, resulting in an increased prevalence of diarrhea and malaria," Brunborg said.

Insecurity has also increased with thieves entering the camps from outside and some armed men allegedly terrorising the IDPs. An armed man was reportedly killed in Mayo in May 2004, in response to one such incident.

In order to support the IDPs and generate some income, FACT was trying to teach women skills, such as spinning wool, knitting and dyeing fabrics. The women, however, said they faced a problem of marketing their products.

Returning home

According to FACT, the 50 women who took part in its skills-training activities wanted to go back to southern Sudan, even while they knew that most schools and hospitals were destroyed in more than 20 years of war.

"If the peace would return today, we would go home today," the leader of the knitting-group told IRIN on 18 November.

Many, however, had other worries.

"The most important reason why people don't return yet is landmines," Joyce Modi said. "They need to be cleared so that people can cultivate their lands

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