Darfur: Sudan dispersing refugees

This Nov. 9 BBC report on Sudan’s expulsion of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Darfur, Wael al-Haj Ibrahim, answers the question of what happened to the residents of a refugee camp near Nyala, who were forcibly relocated by government troops—as reported earlier by the BBC (and practically nobody else). The strategy seems to be to disperse the refugees into the shanty settlements on the outskirts of Darfur’s towns, thereby rendering them invisible (as the estimated three million displaced persons in Colombia are).

Sudan defends expulsion of UN man
The Sudanese government has defended the decision to expel the head of the United Nations humanitarian operation in South Darfur, state media reports. Justice Minister Mohamed Ali al-Mardi said Wael al-Haj Ibrahim had discouraged displaced civilians from returning to their villages. He said the authorities in Darfur had no choice but to expel him.

Mr Ali al-Mardi said Mr Ibrahim was repeatedly warned not to discourage the return of civilians but did so anyway. “State authorities were left with no other alternative but to take that decision so as to preserve the independence of Sudan,” Sudanese state news agency Suna quoted Mr Ali al-Mardi as saying.

He said Mr Ibrahim also told displaced people who had gone back to their villages that they should return to the camps set up for them. Mr Ibrahim, a Canadian national, is head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Nyala, South Darfur.

The UN says his expulsion will hinder efforts to provide aid to some one million people. It comes against a background of rising tension between humanitarian organisations and the authorities in Darfur, the BBC’s Martin Plaut reports.

Late last month the UN witnessed troops and police rounding up refugees from a camp on the outskirts of Nyala. Around 1,000 refugees were forced onto trucks at gunpoint and driven into the night. According to a human rights organisation, the Aegis Trust, they were dumped on the outskirts of the city and have ended up living with friends and relatives.

Mr Ibrahim objected to the forced relocation.

Sudanese officials insist they are not forcing anyone to leave, but want to encourage refugees to return to their villages, because the camps have become too big and dangerous. But most have nowhere to go, and fear attacks if they leave the relative security of the camps, our correspondent says.

Some 200,000 people are estimated to have died and more than two million displaced during the four-year war which has ravaged Darfur.

See our last post on Darfur.