KHARTOUM, Sudan, May 1, 2005 -- Escaping Darfur's madness is the dream of many - but the reality of few.
Most of the displaced people in western Sudan have settled just down the road in makeshift camps. Even those who crossed Sudan's western border into Chad remain within walking distance from their villages, though it is a rugged walk, through harsh desert terrain.
But some who are fleeing further afield. They are arriving in Ghana, more than 1,000 miles away. They are showing up in Britain and the United States. To get away from the bloodshed that began in 2003, they have trudged, hopped on the back of trucks, hidden in cargo ships, or, if they have had the means, settled into airplane seats - sometimes one or two or all of the above.
"They tell dramatic stories of long walks and hitchhiking," said Jane Muigai, a protection officer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ghana, where about 500 former residents of Darfur have arrived in recent months largely because of the country's refugee-friendly policies.
What these refugees find is not always a warm welcome. In Ghana, they are housed in a former jail while their applications are processed. In other countries, they are being sent back where they came from by officials who do not believe their accounts of suffering.
Ms. Muigai likened the long treks of Darfur refugees to those in past years of Somalis who have shown up in South Africa and of Congolese who have made their way to Ivory Coast. "It's a long way," she said.
It is even longer to Europe, where immigration officials are scrutinizing numerous cases to determine whether people who claim to have escaped from Darfur are not Sudanese from unaffected areas trying to use the turmoil to their advantage.
Activists like Dr. James Smith, chief of Aegis Trust, a British-based organization, have condemned the rejection of some refugees' applications, noting that being sent back to Darfur may mean death.
Warfare between government forces and the rebels has quieted somewhat but armed tribal fighters, known as the janjaweed, continue to attack civilians, especially those from certain non-Arab tribes. Rebels and janjaweed also engage in frequent clashes.
No one doubts the accounts of the Sudanese families who have arrived in Ghana in recent months from the Darfur region. They crossed five international boundaries, passing through Chad, Nigeria, Benin, and Togo to reach the outskirts of Accra, a journey through some of the roughest patches in Africa.
The arrivals' temporary home is a former jail. Those accepted into Ghana as refugees will be relocated to camps.
"I fled Darfur in May last year, after my village was attacked and completely destroyed," Omar Mubarak, 33, told the United Nations news agency. He said he stayed in western Sudan for several months before heading off across the desert into Chad last September.
Mubarak Alchek, 28, who made the same harrowing journey, said he had lost his foot in an air raid on his village. He told how he hitched rides on horseback and atop trucks loaded with goods to make it to Ghana. It took about three months.
Libya, where young men in Darfur used to emigrate for higher paying jobs, sealed its border with Sudan in May 2003. But Sudan's port remains open, making it the goal of many on the run.
Yousef Arja Artayero's account of his escape from Darfur by ship is one of those under review in Britain. The teenager claimed in an application to immigration authorities that he fled his family's farm in the village of Kaiba Fuka after an attack by janjaweed militiamen in October 2003.
"They were all on horses and there were about 30 of them," he wrote in his appeal, after his initial application for asylum was rejected. "There are trees surrounding the entrance, so I did not see them until they were close to the gate. When they passed the entrance to the farm they started shooting at us."
He said he hitched a ride with a truck driver to Port Sudan and then paid a smuggler to get on a cargo ship bound for Britain.
British authorities have not accepted his story. They raised questions about why he left his mother behind after she was shot in the leg and after his father and brother were killed. They also said no ships had come directly from Port Sudan in the 48 hours before his arrival.
"I fear that if I were returned to Sudan the Arabs would kill me," Mr. Artayero, who is 17, insisted in his appeal. "I fear for my safety and I fear for my life."
Dr. Musa Saadeldin, another arrival in Britain, similarly predicts persecution should he return. He told the authorities that he ran the hospital at Umm Kedada in North Darfur until March 2004 when he escaped from Sudanese government officials who had tortured him for aiding the rebels.
The British dismissed his account. "If the security forces raided the house as claimed, they would have positioned men on the outside of the house near all exit points," the British immigration authorities said, according to an account in The Scotsman newspaper.
Last year was supposed to be a record year for the return of Africa's refugees to their home countries. But for all the progress - 352,000 people returned home in nine countries in 2004 - the number of new refugees grew, as well. Sudan and Congo, which both face civil strife, were the main contributors.