May 2013: Displacement, returns, and current trends in Darfur—A compendium of reports
(see also, “How many Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are there in Darfur?” Dissent Magazine [on-line], April 28, 2011, http://www.dissentmagazine.org/blog/how-many-internally-displaced-persons-are-there-in-darfur)
Eric Reeves, 10 May 2013
Currently available data make clear that since 2007 more than 1.3 million people have been newly displaced in Darfur. The number has grown massively and consistently in every year during this period. The UN has tried to make this a less dismaying figure by highlighting a few tens of thousands of “returns” by displaced persons. But the UN and the African Union—partners in UNAMID—have an obvious interest in inflating this number. Thus it is important to realize that the UN, in totaling the number of “returning IDPs,” has taken very little account of those who must abandon their attempt to regain their lands and way of life. In a particularly striking example cited by Radio Dabanga (July 26, 2011), we learn that:
[Seven] families who came back to the Guldo region [West Darfur] in the framework of the Sudanese Government’s voluntary repatriation initiative were found in an extremely worrying state. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that they were part of 25 families who left Kalma Camp (South Darfur) as a part of the Voluntary Return program. However, the journey was too dangerous, and 18 families were forced to travel back to their original camp in South Darfur. Furthermore, they reported to Radio Dabanga that the remaining families did not receive any support from the province of West Darfur, even though it organized the deportation. They now call for international action to save these families, who are currently in a critical state.
Much more recently (May 1, 2013) Radio Dabanga reports:
Large “Misseriya” crowd forces Darfur seasonal farmers to flee | Hundreds of displaced families who were returning to their areas of origin in South Darfur in connection with seasonal farming were forced to flee after large Misseriya crowds began arriving from different parts of the region. One of the farmers told Radio Dabanga on Wednesday that they are “concerned” with the presence of these groups settling in Shattai, “especially because there are so many of them and they are armed.” The farmers fear for “disastrous’ consequences if the Misseriya settle in their lands of origin”
A great many other efforts at “return” have been equally unsuccessful and sometimes fatal, as Arab groups from Darfur, Chad, Niger, and likely Mali have seized the lands of non-Arab tribal groups who have throughout the genocide been the primary target of Khartoum’s military campaign.
At the same time, it is statistically important to recognize that many persons have been displaced more than once—many twice or even several times. Thus “double counting” in arriving at totals for displaced persons is difficult to avoid when the standard UN rubric is “newly displaced,” for this of course includes those who have previously been displaced.
Displacement and returns have been central issues in Darfur since the beginning of major fighting in 2003. Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 34 (representing conditions as of January 2009) was the last that OCHA produced. Its release in March 2009 came just as Khartoum was expelling thirteen distinguished international humanitarian organizations and closing three important Sudanese relief organizations—altogether roughly half the humanitarian capacity in Darfur (the expulsions served among other things to signal to the UN that Khartoum wished such comprehensive reporting to cease). This last Profile found that there were “nearly 2.7 million Internally Displaced Persons in Darfur.” An accompanying graph showed a slow but steady increase over previous years; much of the newer total in this report was clearly the result of massive civilian destruction and attacks such as had occurred in the Muhajeriya area of South Darfur (October 2007) and the regions north of el-Geneina in West Darfur (February 2008), the latter described in brutal detail by one of the last meaningful UN human rights reports on Darfur (March 20, 2008):
Military attacks in Sirba, Silea and Abu Suruj (8 February), involved aerial bombardments by helicopter gunships and fixed-wing aircraft, accompanied by ground offensives by militia and SAF. Consistent information gathered by UNAMID Human Rights Officers indicated that these actions violated the principle of distinction stated in international humanitarian law, failing to distinguish between civilian objects and military objectives. Moreover, the scale of destruction of civilian property, including objects indispensable for the survival of the civilian population, suggests that the damage was a deliberate and integral part of a military strategy. Information on extensive pillaging during and after the attacks was also gathered. In addition, consistent and credible accounts of rape committed by armed uniformed men during and after the attack in Sirba were collected.
Such reports worked to explain the steady rise in IDPs that had featured prominently in news and human rights reporting on Darfur; both the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center used the 2.7 million figure. But OCHA issued a massive (and unexplained) “correction” in July 2010, tied to no public or private report. As of July 2010 OCHA referred to 1.9 million IDPs—800,000 people had suddenly become “undisplaced”: (http://ochaonline.un.org/humanitarianappeal/webpage.asp?Page=1878 ).
The only “source” offered by OCHA for this radical downsizing of an intensely distressed population was buried in a terse footnote, referring simply to work by the intergovernmental International Organization for Migration (IOM): “IOM Sudan (2009).” There was no indication of precise date, title, researchers, links, or anything that would allow a reader to understand what was signified by this reference.
The IOM did not announce a publication or completed study on displacement in Darfur; nor did OCHA subsequently explain what IOM had uncovered that justified such an enormous decline in the population considered “displaced.” IOM’s 2009 annual report makes no reference to research on IDPs in Darfur, although the report does note that Khartoum prevented IOM missions from traveling to South Darfur for much of the year (in summer 2010 Khartoum expelled two senior IOM officials for no reason).
What had happened? Since 2009, many within the humanitarian community in Darfur had thought some recalibration of IDP numbers was necessary, for a variety of reasons: double-counting of people registered in two locations; manipulation within the camps of UN World Food Program ration cards; the many deaths (but of course also many births) that had occurred in the camps; and confusion over whether a person already displaced counted for one or two “IDPs” if displaced a second time.
But the new IOM “figure” was relevant for the year 2008, not 2010, even less for 2011, 2012, and 2013. Moreover, during the period of study IOM’s database was significantly incomplete. For example, only 488,997 IDPs were registered with IOM in South Darfur, a region with half of Darfur’s total population (6.5 million). Some camps and concentrations of IDPs had never been registered. This was not an issue of bad faith on the part of IOM, which was simply doing the best it could with limited data (including data from the UN World Food Program). For the beginning of 2008, a figure of 1.9 million was at least representative of the data available to IOM. IOM made clear to OCHA that the figure was a work-in-progress with very significant limits; OCHA ignored this and peremptorily reduced the figure on the basis of the “IOM Sudan (2009)” reference. IOM did not intend that the figure of 1.9 million IDPs would replace earlier assessments, precisely because of the issues that are raised here, according to former IOM officials.
Similarly, there has been no explanation of how the figure of 1.9 million was reduced to 1.4 million, a figure that appears without qualification in numerous OCHA reports—this is a further reduction of 500,000 in the number of internally displaced persons, offered against the backdrop of massive new displacement over the past six years.
The Broader Extant Data
To gain any true sense of scale of displacement in Darfur, we are obliged to bear in mind UN and other figures for total displacement, of all kinds, in the immediately preceding years.
• OCHA estimated that more than 300,000 Darfuris were newly displaced in 2007; http://reliefweb.int/report/sudan/sudan-darfur-humanitarian-profile-no-30-situation-01-jan-2008
• OCHA estimated that 317,000 Darfuris were newly displaced in 2008; http://reliefweb.int/report/sudan/sudan-darfur-humanitarian-profile-no-34-situation-01-jan-2009
• In 2009—the year of humanitarian expulsions—OCHA promulgated no figure of its own, but the Canadian “Peace Operations Monitor” found evidence suggesting that “over 214,000 people were newly displaced [in Darfur] between January & June  alone (http://pom.peacebuild.ca/SudanRelief.shtml) Given the reports of violent displacement that followed June 2009, a total figure for the year of 250,000 seems conservative;
• The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre collected data suggesting that in 2010 approximately 300,000 people were newly displaced (http://tinyurl.com/n6fzjx). The OCHA Sudan Bulletin (January 7 – 13, 2011) reported that the “overall number of people displaced during the December 2010 fighting in the area of Khor Abeche stands at 43,000.” 300,000 newly displaced for the year again seems a conservative figure;
• UN IRIN (Nairobi) reports, March 16, 2011:
Tens of thousands of people continue to flee their homes in Sudan’s western region of Darfur for the safety of internally displaced people’s camps after recent fighting between government forces and armed militias. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated 66,000 IDPs have arrived in camps in North and South Darfur since January. At least 53,000 are in and around North Darfur State’s Zam Zam IDP Camp.
• Radio Dabanga alone reported on March 27, 2012 a finding by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (these are precisely the sorts of stories—accounts from UN humanitarian agencies—that so rarely figure in international reporting on Darfur):
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN said on Monday [March 26, 2012] that about 3,000 people from the areas of Dar Es Salam and Zam Zam camps in North Darfur have been displaced to Kalimdo and other areas with El Fasher. The FAO said that the displaced people are in need aid, food and medicines.
• Radio Dabanga reported, April 2, 2012:
7,000 flee after government forces raze villages in North Darfur | More than 7,000 people have fled their homes in North Darfur after government forces and militants reportedly burned down their villages last week. “7,000 have left the villages of Adam Khatir, Nagojora, Hamid Dilli, Amar Jadid, Koyo and Duga Ferro near Donki Hosh and fled to the surrounding areas where there is no food, water or shelter,” said a newly displaced witness to Radio Dabanga from a safe area. “They attacked us for three days, from Tuesday until Thursday evening. They burned down five villages, looted more than 20 and destroyed water wells and pumps,” added the witness. She appealed to the UN and humanitarian organisations to protect them and provide them with desperately needed assistance.”
• Radio Dabanga reported, April 16, 2012:
5,000 South Sudanese forced out of Darfuri camp (Sharef [South Darfur], 16 Apr 2012) | South Sudanese citizens living in a camp in the Sharef area of East [formerly South] Darfur had their homes burned down and destroyed on Monday by a group of militia. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga their camp was completely looted yesterday including the clothes they were wearing. They said today the militants came back and indiscriminately burned down their homes forcing the traumatised camp residents out into the surrounding areas.”
• UN OCHA reported, April 29, 2012:
According to IOM [the International Organization for Migration], some 3,400 newly displaced people have been verified and registered in Zamzam IDP camp, North Darfur. These newly displaced people fled their homes because of inter-tribal fighting between Zaghawa and Birgid tribesmen in Alauna village (approximately 25km north of Dar el Salam, North Darfur) that started on 22 February.
• August 5, 2012: a report from a highly reliable and experienced relief worker on the ground in North Darfur (received via e-mail):
Kutum town has been overrun by Arab militia since last Thursday [August 3, 2012]…all of the INGOs [International Nongovernmental Humanitarian Organizations] and UN offices in the area have been thoroughly looted and their staff relocated to el-Fasher. All of the IDPs from Kassab IDP camp have been displaced [approximately 30,000 civilians—ER]. The markets in Kutum and in Kassab have both been thoroughly looted.
• Radio Dabanga reported, August 9, 2012:
Representatives of the Kassab and Fatta Barno camps in North Darfur, revealed on Wednesday that the situation in both camps remains critical and over 70,000 IDPs fled so far. UNAMID promised to provide support to both camps within 24 hours.
• Radio Dabanga reported, September 30, 2012:
[M]ore than 2,000 people who fled the recent attacks around Hashaba have arrived to Ba’ashim area, north of Mellit, North Darfur, on Sunday, 30 September. Sources told Radio Dabanga that these people traveled for three days by foot, hiding around mountains and valleys when it was light and moving only by night. This way, sources explained, the victims could avoid being found by pro-government militias.
Witnesses said these people are suffering from fatigue, adding that they barely ate or drank anything during the three days they traveled. Upon arrival in Ba’ashim, a remote area, most people were transferred to Mellit city where there are enough facilities to support them, sources explained. They added that the 2,000 people who arrived in Ba’ashim represent only one fourth of the victims who fled the Hashaba attacks.
• UN IRIN reported February 8, 2013:
The Darfur-based Radio Dabanga reported on 6 February that some 16,000 newly displaced people had arrived in the North Darfur towns of Kabkabiya and Saraf Omra following threats by rival tribal militias. Many of the displaced are living on the streets with no humanitarian support.
• Reuters (AlertNet), reported (February 13, 2103):
The latest violence left more than 100 people dead and forced some 100,000 to flee their homes in what aid agencies say is the largest displacement in recent years inside Sudan’s troubled western region of Darfur. The United Nations said in mid-January it was alarmed by confirmed reports of killings of civilians, as well as the burning of more than three dozen villages.
• Radio Dabanga reported (March 19, 2013):
“Some 4,000 people in South Darfur were displaced after having their villages ‘burnt by aerial bombings by the Sudanese air force’ during last week’s battles.”
• Radio Dabanga reported, March 26, 2013:
“A Nertiti camps activist disclosed on Tuesday [February 26, 2013] that between 23,000 and 25,000 families [likely over 75,000 civilians] have arrived in the area fleeing the battles between government and rebel forces in [formerly West] Darfur that erupted on 23 December last year. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, he noted that some 15 or 20 families continue arriving in the camps every day from Golo and the Jildu garrison area in West Jebel Marra, where much of the fighting took place. Nertiti is already home to more than 42,000 displaced persons according to the UN OCHA.”
• Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported, April 26, 2013:
“TISSI, CHAD/NEW YORK, APRIL 26, 2013—Violent clashes in Sudan’s Darfur region have driven approximately 50,000 people across the border into southeastern Chad since early March, where a lack of food, water, shelter, and basic services is developing into a humanitarian crisis, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.” (http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/press/release.cfm?id=6744 )
• UN IRIN reported, April 19, 2013:
“An estimated 2.3 million people remain displaced by Darfur’s decade-long conflict. A number of peace agreements—most recently the 2011 Doha Document for Peace in Darfur—have failed to halt the intermittent clashes between the government and rebel groups in the region…. [NB:] According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, more than 150,000 people were displaced by renewed violence in Darfur in the first three months of 2013.” (http://tinyurl.com/cqp8rrz)
The IRIN figure of “2.3 million displaced” in this April 19 dispatch evidently includes much of what is excluded from the commonly cited UN figure of “1.4 million internally displaced in Darfur”:
• We should also recall that many of the displaced live not in camps but with host families or villages; early in its reporting, the UN Darfur Humanitarian Profiles estimated this figure to be as high as 600,000.
• There are now 330,000 Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad, a surge of some 50,000,confirmed by both the UN High Commission for Refugees and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF); again, the latter reported from Tissi, eastern Chad (April 26, 2013): “Violent clashes in Sudan’s Darfur region have driven approximately 50,000 people across the border into southeastern Chad since early March .
These readily available data, in aggregate, suggest that well over 1.3 million civilians have been newly displaced since 2007—more than one million of these since UNAMID took up its mandate on January 1, 2008. And the figure may well be much greater than 1.3 million.
Yet despite these data, most news reports continue to cite a figure of “1.4 million” as “remaining displaced” in Darfur. This is a gross misrepresentation of realities on the ground, and yet the new UN/AU Joint Special Representative Aichatu Mindaoudou claims on the basis of this figure that “the numbers of people affected by violence had decreased each year between 2008 and 2011.” It did not take Ms. Mindaoudou long to learn the mendacious ways of UNAMID.
The very most recent evidence strongly suggests that displacement is again accelerating, even beyond the levels that we have seen over the past ten months.
Radio Dabanga, with a vast network of sources within Darfur, reports:
• 300 people fleeing South Darfur’s battles ‘attacked’ by militias, NYALA (23 April 2013)
Pro-government militias reportedly attacked 300 civilians who were fleeing battles between government forces and rebels in South Darfur on Monday. The displaced were heading to El Salam camp near the state’s capital which has received ‘7,000 families’ [perhaps more than 30,000 civilians] since March.”
• “40%” of Umm Dukhun’s population fled Sudan to Chad, UMM DUKHUN (24 April 2013)
Multiple sources affirm that more than 40 percent of the population of Umm Dukhun town and surrounding villages in Central Darfur fled to Chad due to violent fighting between various groups in the area. Prior to the tribal conflicts, the area of Umm Dukhun had about 125,000 inhabitants, being most them displaced and refugees themselves, according to estimations by local witnesses and activists. Pro-government militias are said to have confiscated “all possessions” from residents of Umm Dukhun and surrounding villages in the last days, including their “eating and drinking utensils.”
• 2,200 families fleeing Sudan army, rebels battles arrive in camp, KALMA CAMP (26 April 2013)
In line with “preliminary assessments” at least 2,200 families have arrived in a South Darfur camp over the last month due to clashes between Sudanese and rebel troops in two states of the region.
• UN peacekeeping chief urges Council to halt Darfur fighting, NEW YORK (30 Apr 2013)
UN peacekeeping chief urged Security Council’s members to do all they can to help relieve the suffering of the people of Darfur and bring about an end to the fighting in the region. [Hervé Ladsous said] “that intensified conflict in Darfur due to military and inter-community standoffs is a source of concern. Clashes displaced more than 200,000 people, including 24,000 to Chad – more than last year’s  total, he said.
• 7,111 families reach Darfur camps receiving “daily flows” of displaced, NYALA (1 May 2013)
At least 7,111 families, fleeing battles between government and rebels forces, have arrived in the South Darfur camp of Kalma over the last month. El Salam camp also continues receiving displaced, while two of its residents were killed by militias on Tuesday. [The camp spokesman indicated that] humanitarian organizations working in the area “are failing to provide” the necessary support to the new arrivals, adding that so far, only 431 families have received aid. The displaced are living in “extremely difficult conditions, as they lack the most basic needs.”
• Health fears as Darfur camp receives 1,000 new displaced families, KALMA CAMP (2 May 2013)
The sheikh of Kalma camp said the number of newly displaced people who have arrived at the site has reached 8,482 families. This is up from an estimated 7,111 on Wednesday. Sheikh Ali Tahir stressed that he expected the number to rise even further as people continue to flee areas east and south of Nyala following ongoing clashes between government forces and the SRF rebel alliance.
• UN: “East Darfur displaced now number 50,000,” KHARTOUM (3 May 2013)
Over the last few weeks a total of about 50,000 people have been forced to flee their homes as a result of fighting in East Darfur, which began on 6 April. This figure, which has been confirmed in the latest reports from the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC), the Sudanese Red Crescent Society (SRCS) and some national NGOs, has risen by 10,000 in just two weeks. [ ] An estimated 11,500 people remain displaced around the AU-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) team site outside the town of Muhajeriya.
• 75,000 arriving in Darfur camp suffer “inhuman conditions,” NYALA (3 May 2013)
Fleeing clashes between rebel and government forces south of Nyala 75,000 people have arrived at El Salam camp near South Darfur’s capital. Sources report they are living in “inhuman conditions” without water, food or shelter. Sheikh Tabaldiya of El Salam told Radio Dabanga on Friday that the number of displaced persons who have arrived at the camp since 22 April has reached 75,000. “These people are not receiving any aid, also not from the state,” he said. The sheikh appealed to humanitarian organizations and the Humanitarian Aid Commission for “urgent action to provide a helping hand” pointing to a decline in health conditions in the camp, as well as high fatality rates among children.
• Darfur’s Dreige camp takes in 5,736 people in three weeks, DREIGE (6 May 2013)
The sheikh of Dreige camp in South Darfur has disclosed that a total of 5,736 people have arrived at the site within less than one month. They have fled clashes between rebels and government forces as well as tribal hostilities between the Gimr and Beni Halba, he said. These people reached the camp between 12 April and 5 May. Dreige’s sheikh stressed the number, which amounts to 1,277 families, does not include the people who arrived at the camp on Monday. It also only includes the people arriving in Dreige, not those arriving at El Salam, Attash and Kalma. “Displaced persons are coming here from south of Nyala and Jogma in South Darfur; Muhajeriya and Labado in Central Darfur; and even from Dabai in Central Darfur,” the sheikh said.
• Plea for services in East Darfur camp after more than 11,000 arrivals, ED DAEIN (8 May 2013)
According to the latest statistics, 11,173 people, some from Labado and most from Muhajeriya, arrived at El Neem camp between 11 April and Wednesday. The site is near Ed Daein, the capital of East Darfur. This figure has been released by the camp’s High Committee responsible for receiving new arrivals. A committee member, Omar Issa Ahmed, said that conditions are “very bad” and that only 3,000 of them have been provided with food or non-food items so far. “They are crowded into one location at the reception centre which measures 150 metres x 100 metres. There is a decline in health services at the centre, and people are especially susceptible to diseases with the summer approaching.” Over the last few weeks approximately 50,000 people from near Labado and Muhajeriya have been forced to flee their homes as a result of fighting in East Darfur, which began on 6 April, UN OCHA said.
• “Critical conditions” in South Darfur camp as 327 families arrive in one day, KALMA CAMP (8 May 2013)
Civilians continue to flee conflict areas to the east and south of Nyala, South Darfur capital. High tensions remaining from clashes between the Sudanese army and rebel forces in Bulbul and Dalal Al Angara are forcing its residents to seek shelter in Kalma camp, which is already facing critical conditions due to the arrival of thousands of families in the last weeks. On Sunday, Hussein Abu Sharati, spokesman for the association of displaced persons and refugees of Darfur, said that the total number of new arrivals at Kalma camp from the areas and villages south and east of Nyala, Labado and Muhajeriya amounts to 41,441 families [perhaps 200,000 civilians—ER] since the beginning of March. Speaking to Radio Dabanga on Wednesday, Kalma’s Sheikh Ali Abdulrahman Al Taher said that “the humanitarian conditions of the new arrivals are critical.” He reported that 327 new families arrived at the site on Wednesday alone. “They lack food, water, and medicines.”
And there can be little doubt that the engine of civilian displacement continues to race:
“Sudan forces now targeting civilians” camp leader says, NYALA (9 May 2013)
Approximately 1,321 families from villages in South Darfur have arrived at camp Attash in Nyala over the past two weeks. A sheikh has noted that people are fleeing their homes “because government forces now avoid attacking rebel formations and instead turn their weapons and aircraft on civilians”. Sheikh Abdel Karim Abakar told Radio Dabanga on Thursday that the displaced come from the villages of Umm Daraba, Umm Gunja and Abu Jabra. He stressed they are all experiencing terrible humanitarian conditions. Al Taher is concerned about the spread of diseases in the camp due to the lack of sanitation facilities for the large number of people already living at the site as well as the many new arrivals.