Statement from the coordinating counselor for Team Zamzam (Zamzam IDP camp, North Darfur) on recent violence southwest of El Fasher
(translated by Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen; edited by Eric Reeves only for grammatical, geographic, and idiomatic clarity)
August 7, 2021
Recent events in the Gallab, Tawila, and Tabit areas of North Darfur state have caused the displacement of many families from the villages of Kweim, Haskanita, Darji, Batnu, Shaq al-Nil, Kutool and Umm Hashaba, including the displacement of children and women. Their present living conditions are dire. They live in the open in very harsh conditions.
On 1st of August 2021, we heard very worrying news about mass displacement from villages, killing, looting, and sexual violence taking place in the area of Gallab [Tawila Rural Council], and the following day we called the team to an emergency meeting. After the emergency meeting, we took a decision to send a delegation consists of six counselors and two security guards to inspect the conditions of the displaced and evaluate the overall situation.
On the second of August, the selected delegation left El Fasher through the southwestern checkpoint, which was blocked by people who had set up a temporary sit-in camp to express their anger and frustration about the events that taken place about twenty kilometers south of checkpoint. After leaving the checkpoint, the counselors headed to the area of Gallab, where the displacement is taking place; after four hours of travelling through rough and muddy roads, we met the first group of displaced people, heading towards El Fasher in total panic.
We stayed there for the rest of the day on the outskirts of Gallab area observing and evaluating the situation from only a few kilometers away, where we could clearly hear activities nonstop throughout day. We met wave after wave of countless small groups and three large groups of people fleeing towards El Fasher; and most of them were women, children and the elderly, carrying their children on donkey backs. It was the most frightening moment and the distressing day ever we came across and will remains one of those days that cannot be erased from memory.
And there was one common denominator on the faces of those fleeing people: panic, confusion, fear, despair, and pain. In addition to this, fatigue and hunger were clearly on the faces of the young ones. It makes my conscience and heart cry, and we all cried in silence and out loud to express our sympathy for their plight. We couldn’t count the number of people fleeing towards El Fasher in the space of three hours, but the numbers of families who talked to us were about 350 to 380 families, over 90% of them originally from Zamzam camp.
Returning and entering El Fasher city is not that easy
An hour before sunset, we decided to head back to El Fasher, and on our way we were accompanied by the last wave we met to the outskirts of El Fasher. Already many of those we had met earlier in the day were unloading their few possessions there to spend the night in miserable weather conditions. Finally, we left them at a distance of 2 km from the city’s checkpoint, and promised to meet them the next day, either around the entrance to the city of El Fasher or in Zamzam camp, where they intended to go.
When we returned to the checkpoint from which we had departd early in the morning towards Gallab, we found the situation very chaotic: many fleeing people were stuck at the checkpoint and angry activists had set up a sit-in camp to halt all movements in and out of El Fasher. And further towards El Fasher, there was another checkpoint controlled by security forces composed of police and the security apparatus: Sudanese army and Rapid Support Forces. These security forces controlling the checkpoint nearly beat all of us, but fortunately we managed to escape their brutality with only a few slaps on the face.
Fear of going back to rural areas
After we returned to El Fasher, we decided not to go back immediately the following morning to meet those we left on the outskirts of El Fasher, as we had promised to help them until the security risks were reduced. And so then we decided to go to Zamzam camp to continue working there. Thank god, after our return to the camp, we found most of those we left outside on the outskirts of the city had managed to arrive to the camp after their nights of miserable weather conditions, hunger, and exhaustion.
Deterioration of the humanitarian situation, the horror of nightmares, and many new victims of sexual violence
After evaluating the situation from a close distance and talking with the fleeing victims, we decided to give priority this month to attending to these newly displaced people. And since the fifth of August we have divided the team into two groups: one of which is a group of nine counselors who are intensifying private talk sessions to provide urgent psychological support to young girls who are suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress; the second group, made up of eight counselors, is intensifying provision of psychological support for women who lost their loved ones and children in the panic of attack.
With this, we also decided to give the priority to the distribution of basic necessities for August directly to these newly displaced people, who are in desperate needs. This new catastrophic situation created by recent events requires us to persevere, be diligent, and to be cohesive and focused in our determination to help. We continue to work in a harmonious manner with very high team coordination. We are proud of what we are doing in these difficult days, and with determination and beliefs, we can overcome this crisis.