ANNEX to the September 15, 2023 Update: Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur
From the coordinating counselor of Team Zamzam, for period from the 3rd week of August to the September 11, 2023
From the Coordinating Counselor of Team Zamzam (received September 11, 2023)
This report comes at a very difficult time for all the residents of camps for displaced persons in Darfur, especially Zamzam. The camp is experiencing a continuing deterioration in food security, with most people facing scarcity and/or an inability to purchase the most essential foods. These problems are exacerbated by a deteriorating security situation. By means of these monthly updates, Team Zamzam is attempting to shed light on the daily suffering experienced by the residents of Zamzam, primarily by listening directly to them in their places of residence.
The situation in general looks bleak—and ever more gloomy; people worry about the dangerous and unpredictable future ahead. And yet the steadfastness and determination of the people of Zamzam camp in the years preceding the current violence has taught us not to lose hope.
In this preliminary section, I conclude with the words of one of Zamzam’s notables, who said: “Today, inside most homes you will find little other than drinking water; but inside all of homes you may find a sense of hope, a strong, determined resilience, community cohesion, and a growing social solidarity.”
Indeed, what has made Zamzam camp unique is its steadfastness in the face of any challenges—and in the high morale that was implanted in this very place nearly twenty years ago. This continues and strengthens in the face of years of the Janjaweed’s violent provocations and the state’s negligence of its people. High morale also stems from a consciousness that Zamzam is a diverse community, reflecting Darfur as a whole.
Current humanitarian situation on the ground
The living situation in and around El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, is deteriorating. In El Fasher and its environs, two of the camps—Zamzam and Abu Shouk—have existed for almost two decades. But displacement is increasing in the neighborhoods northeast of the city because of ongoing fighting between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Displacement is also increasing in the Tawila area, fifty miles to the west of El Fasher. The city and surrounding camps have also been overwhelmed by a new wave of displacement from areas of South Darfur.
During the past month, many families struggled to reach El Fasher with great difficulty due to the lack of transport vehicles. So many people sent only the children and mothers, while the men stayed with their homes, which are increasingly in the hands of the Rapid Support Forces. We, as Team Zamzam, have received many relief calls from these people, and we traveled to the shelter centers to follow up on their cases. We were able to provide the modest aid that we have at our disposal. We visited the Al-Hijra and Al-Bishariyya schools, where we found humanitarian conditions extremely difficult and harsh.
[Al-Hijra School is located east of El Fasher, about 18 kilometers from Zamzam Camp, while Al-Basharia School is located southeast of El Fasher, about 16 kilometers from Zamzam Camp—ER.]
While we were inspecting the condition of the schools, their supervisor, Hawa Nour, explained to us about the living situation inside the displacement camp, especially in the Al-Basharia School. The situation is extremely difficult, as the displaced persons do not have food, water, or shelter. The supervisor said:
“We are benefitting from a special effort made by young local volunteers from the city of El Fasher, working in coordination with charitable people. They bring us food, though only enough for a small portion of the people, as our numbers inside the school are more than two thousand individuals, disproportionately children; we also suffer from shortages of water. We need more than three water bottles per day per person. With the efforts of young people, a small sum of money is paid to us, but it is not enough even for water. We ask philanthropists and humanitarian organizations to move as quickly as possible to save the lives of displaced people and stop the war and violence against innocent citizens.”
A young volunteer, Ahmed Ibrahim, said:
“We have malnutrition diseases, malaria diseases, infections, cases of severe malnutrition in children, and dengue fever in abundance, because all the families inside this school do not have mosquito netting to protect the children from diseases. We have rainwater lying at the level of the school yard, so mosquitos have ample breeding ground.”
Sheikh Muhammad Ali said:
“The displaced people from the city of Nyala and the northern city of El Fasher are all stationed in the southwest direction of the city of El Fasher, which has led to high prices, increased population pressure, many problems and many diseases, so we demand the immediate intervention of more humanitarian organizations and philanthropists.”
A day after our visit, the basic necessities required for these displaced people were identified in Al-Basharia School: a basket of simple food supplies to relieve the pressure on them. The total number of beneficiaries to whom we distributed was 260 persons in 123 families. These included:
- Young children who lost their mothers and fathers (22 orphans)
- Widows and pregnant women (88 persons)
- The elderly and people with disabilities (84)
- Displaced children (12 children)
- Poorer families with chronic diseases (50 persons)
The quantity of simple foodstuffs distributed in Al-Bashariya School was:
- Five large sacks of sugar, each sack containing 50 kg
- Ten pasta cartons of pasta each carton containing 24 pieces
- Forty-two large tea packs containing 10 pieces
After this was distributed to the displaced, who had been recently displaced from South Darfur, one of them said:
“Since we arrived at this school, no one has come to help the displaced except from you, sisters from Team Zamzam. We cannot get aid easily, so we wish you continued success in your efforts.”
One woman also said:
“We benefited a great deal from your distribution, in terms of foodstuffs, in addition to advice, awareness, and psychological counseling, and we hope that peace, stability and security will prevail.”
A child said to us:
“Children are in dire need of a normal life free of weapons and random threats, and we want schools to return so we can learn because we are tired of staying at home and we also want to return to our homes.”
[This was one of two provisions of food and other items during the current reporting period —in place of the usual single distribution. It was made possible by a recent generous donation to our project in Zamzam—ER]
Follow up with displaced of Tawila in Zamzam camp
We conducted our routine visit to and follow-up on the IDPs who were recently displaced from Tawila locality; they are currently sheltering in Al Salam (56) and Al Salam (57) schools. We noted the concerns and opinions of the displaced, we assessed their current situation according to priorities and urgent needs, and therefore made a second distribution of basic necessities. During our visits, we have noticed that most people complain about the severe difficulties they are going through these days, from a scarcity of foodstuffs, the inability to buy, the absence of security and safety, and the absence of humanitarian organizations.
What does this distribution mean for the beneficiaries?
A large number of recently displaced people have benefited from this simple distribution of food supplies, especially sugar, pasta, tea and other items to help them relieve the pain of acute hunger and continue their lives and survival. A large percentage of the newly displaced people who were displaced from the Tawila locality benefited. Also benefiting were families suffering from depression due to daily worries and the burden of responsibility to provide basic living necessities for their children, many acutely malnourished.
At the same time, many women and girls have been exploited and experienced brutal sexual violence by ongoing extreme violence. They have benefited from the awareness, advice, counseling and guidance provided by Team Zamzam, helping to alleviate the pain that is so much a part of this atmosphere of violence. Continuing this work is vital and extremely beneficial for the residents of Zamzam camp, and despite the challenges caused by war and the complete lack of security, the work is now being done without the shame and silence of the victims. There are more and more workshops, training and awareness-raising to change the difficult and cruel customs, and the backward traditions that deprive young people of their human rights; this is accomplished through direct and sincere dialogues with the displaced on a regular basis.
Words and opinions of beneficiaries of the distribution
Hadiya Musa, 57 years old, from the Kulgai area [southwest of Zamzam] in the village of Al-Tayyara, which is about 5 kilometers away from Kulgai Qalab. She is the mother of eight children, three boys and five girls, and all the boys are younger than the girls. Hadiya lost her husband in the events of Kulgai Qalab, which was attacked by Janjaweed militias on the of March 6, 2022. Hadiya said that her husband left the village on his way to the nearby farm. He was hit by a bullet in the chest and died instantly. Afterwards there was a panic to bring the dead man’s body home; but instead, two other people in her family died from violent injuries.
After that, the Janjaweed took complete control of the village, and they began to round up all the inhabitants and then began to loot all their livestock, sheep, family property, food, mattresses and blankets. After that the whole house was burned, and they started beating and torturing the women and children.
“After two days of physical torture, verbal insults, and sexual violence, we managed to escape from them and ran barefoot to Zamzam camp. In the attack, I lost my eye and life has become very difficult for us. My children are young and now I have had three days without food in my house: we have no money to buy food.”
Upon receiving the distribution package, Hadiya cried and said:
“Today I was not expecting to receive these distributed foodstuffs, but you surprised me!”
Hadiya has been following team Zamzam’s activities through her neighborhood representative Fatima and thus was able to obtain her food supply. She concluded by saying:
“We hope that good people and humanitarian organizations will hear my voice and the voice of others to come and help us relieve our difficult situation. Because today most of the families and homes have become devoid of food and medicine, and this is not to mention clothes and shoes. There is no government in this country and nor humanitarian organizations to provide us with basic necessities but all that we are experiencing on daily basis is killing, theft, and looting that threatens all the basics of life.”
For her part, Amira Ahmed said:
“There is no life inside the camp in the absence of basic needs; sources of family income have disappeared because of the absence of security, as well as extremely difficult economic conditions are very difficult.”
Amira also complained of the spread of diseases inside Zamzam camp and a deterioration in the health conditions of children suffering from several diseases. These include malnutrition and malaria due to the spread of mosquitos, day and night. Diarrheal diseases and infections are all too common, especially among the elderly and children.
Likewise, Sheikh Al-Sadiq Ismail said:
“I extend many thanks and appreciation to the Zamzam team and the volunteers for their amazing efforts. You have not only provided sugar, pasta, tea, and the most urgent necessities for people’s lives here, but you brought happiness and hope to everyone’s souls.”
He concluded by saying:
“Since our displacement, no one has come here to provide us even a grain of sugar.”
He also said:
“We demand the intervention of charities and humanitarian organizations as soon as possible – because hunger is exhausting the entire camp and life is perishing gradually due to the absence of livelihood support from humanitarian organizations, especially the World Food Programme.”
On the other hand, the representative of women in one of the Zamzam’s neighborhoods, Mona Abdullah, said:
“The most important thing for us is security, then security, safety and stability throughout the country and the return of life to normal. We demand the exit of the Rapid Support Forces and Janjaweed militias from all places as quickly as possible so that people can live in peace. As it is now, there is nowhere we can go that is more than an inch from our homes to get the simplest things. All our children want the schools to reopen so that our kids get out of their stress.”
Also, one of the young men from Dali camp who were recently displaced to Zamzam camp said:
“Our life has become very difficult and threatened by firearms. All the youth have been lost and the country has been destroyed by the Janjaweed—and we suffer a lot of violence of all kinds. Sexual violence against our sisters and mothers is constantly increasing and we have seen rape, illness, and psychological distress, and this is what forced many young people to flee. We also demand the immediate intervention of humanitarian organizations and philanthropists to save human lives so that our youths do not end here. And we demand the provision of basic, health, and security services to continue life.”
In summary: The current economic conditions are very, very difficult due to the lack of security in the state. Furthermore, the social and health conditions are also very difficult, and food shortages are a critical issue.
Therefore, our simple food items were distributed to the selected beneficiaries and targets to relieve stress and pain:
Number of beneficiaries: 223 persons; 92 families
They are divided as follows:
- 62 widows
- 28 orphans
- 37 people with various types of disabilities
- 97 acutely impoverished families
Food supplies were distributed to Al Salam School #56 inside Zamzam camp
- 50 kilo bags of sugar
- 10 cartons of pasta, each carton containing 24 bags of half a kilo
- 36 carton of tea contains 10 pieces of 60 tea bags
The continuity of sexual violence
Continuing sexual violence and an increase in the number of rapes reflects the absence of security. Such sexual violence is one of the most disturbing features of life for displaced people in Darfur.
In El Fasher and its environs, the displaced constantly live under conditions of fear caused by these heinous phenomena; rape has increased and those responsible are the Rapid Support Forces and the Janjaweed militia. This immensely destructive violence often occurs only short distances from the populations. This happens especially when girls and women go out to bring back basic necessities such as firewood and other needed items. Today, rape crimes have become a very useful means of creating insecurity and is a preferred weapon of war for these barbaric militias.
The latest instance of what is currently happening occurred on August 28, 2023. Three young girls were attacked on their way to Zamzam camp from the western side, only 5 kilometers away from the camp itself. The girls went to fetch necessities, and at about four o’clock in the afternoon, a few hours after they left the camp, they reached an area near the village of Jarjirah. There a group of militiamen appeared on two vehicles carrying weapons and began to assault the girls with severe beatings. The three victims were between the ages of twelve and fifteen and were raped at gunpoint for several hours, before one of them managed to escape.
After that, the attackers left the other two victims at the scene and went towards Jebel Marra, leaving their victims in a terrified state. One of the victims said:
“They pointed weapons at us and asked us to take off our clothes immediately, and when we hesitated, they beat us severely and then they started having sex with us. And after that, all I could hear was the screaming of my friend Rania she was too young, she could not stand it. The Janjaweed took turns on me and my friend as well.”
The young victims eventually were found in terrible condition after three hours of intensive searching and have been taken to El Fasher hospital for initial medical treatments; they have now returned back to Zamzam. We, as Team Zamzam’s counselors, along with our dedicated volunteers, have been following up with these latest three victims from the first day of the incident until they were discharged from the hospital to return to Zamzam camp. And we are still following up on a daily basis to bring every possible comfort until they return to something like a normal state of mind.
Health conditions are dismal
Health conditions in Zamzam camp are dismal and continue to deteriorate rapidly, as they are for most of North Darfur. Recently, a delegation from the Ministry of Health visited and reviewed the overall health conditions in Zamzam camp and noticed the spread of a number of malaria-related diseases, all kinds of fevers, diarrhea, uremia, eye infections, as well as skin diseases and fungi. Moreover, a group of bacterial diseases have also recently appeared, such as tigweed, paratyphoid, dysentery as well as various types of viral diseases, including hepatitis.
The Zamzam Camp Health Committee has insisted that the process of combating epidemics, malaria, and fevers is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health. But the Ministry ignored us and stopped all its activities in Zamzam camp for reasons that are not clear or convincing to the people of the camp. For its part, the health committee of the camp appealed to the camp’s citizens to unite in their efforts and work together to reduce the rate of infections inside the camp.
One of the reasons for the spread of epidemics is the lack of sanitation. This is essential, along with the provision of clean water, food, and increasingly scarce medicines. Water is an essential element in human life everywhere, but Zamzam still suffers from a lack of clean water sources. Surface water, such as pond water, has a limited period and is contaminated with a number of bacterial, fungal, and urine diseases. As we mentioned earlier, most of these diseases are transmitted by bathing in contaminated water, or in cooking and drinking. Stagnant rainwater in the streets and fields in the period of the fall is also very polluted and is the source of many waterborne diseases and the parasites that cause malaria and dengue fever.
The suffering of urinary fistula patients and their daily lives: testimony from fistula patient
In addition to the patients registered with us who have been waiting in waiting for several months, during our tour of the visits we found other fistula patients inside the camp living in silence. They all have painful stories to tell despite their health condition differing from one to another. Maryam, one of the patients who recently recovered, thanks to the efforts made by the Zamzam team, shared with us the severity of the pain, the years of social isolation and stigma that she suffered since the age of her adolescence.
Maryam is from the Tawila area and was raped at a young age; she is now 28 years old and still lives with her mother after her fistula caused a divorce from her beloved husband. Maryam said:
“I developed fistula early, but the symptoms didn’t appear until after marriage during my first pregnancy,” Maryam said, “I was working on the farm, and I felt severe pain in my lower abdomen, and I was alone, and I sat for a while but the pain was still increasing continuously, which forced me to go home, and there I found my little brother and told him that I was suffering from pain. He then he went out to inform my mother of the news.
“My mother came in a hurry and asked me about my condition, and she found me very tired with signs of miscarriage. After that, the news of my illness reached neighbours and from them to my husband’s family. My husband, who was working far away between the major cities, immediately sent a divorce letter to my family without any explanation.
[The evident assumption is that the husband concluded his wife had been adulteress, not that she was the victim of rape—ER]
“Upon hearing the news of my divorce from my mother, I felt as ifan angry thunderstorm hit me and I fell to the ground immediately. The shock was so strong that my mother thought I was dead and started screaming hysterically. I was caught up between a severe pain of fistula and a sudden shock that ripped my heart into pieces.
“For several months I lost any taste for food, lost weight, lost hair, lost hope and became isolated inside home. But the worst of all is the bullying, stone throwing to our home and cursing that I suffered from my husband’s family and some hateful people of our neighbourhood. For a period of 4 years, my life continued to be filled with despair, depression, isolation, and bullying from ignorant people who did not know what I was going through. This has pushed me to the point where I contemplated of getting rid of my life several times until I was rescued by my Sisters from Team Zamzam.
“The Sisters, for several weeks come to see regularly andt hey have provided me comfort, motivation and encouraged me to be strong. Their words had immense effects on my internal healing. I’m happy that the doctor said that my illness is treatable and I feel a lot better since my initial treatment. My only regret is that I didn’t have the chance to explain to my husband what I was suffering from. Last news I had of him is that he went on to marry another woman in West Kordofan and settled there.
“All I wish is that people would not prejudge me and others unfairly. Thanks to efforts made by the Sisters here in Zamzam, many bad perceptions are disappearing forever. I thank them for rescuing me.”
Other work carried out during the period August 22 and September 10:
• 42 assessment visits carried out within the four sections of Zamzam camp to evaluate living conditions, health conditions, and take notes on their main concerns of the people.
• 8 emergency visits carried out within the neighborhoods of Al-Basharia in El-Fasher to evaluate living conditions, health conditions, distribute basic necessities and take notes on their main concerns of the recently displaced who are sheltered in the neighborhoods schools.
• 58 patients suffering from various illness; this including 11 pregnant and 3 fistula patients have been accompanied to different hospitals for medical treatment, medical consultation and routine checkups.
• 5 meetings were held with some representatives from different neighbourhoods, women’s groups and youth volunteer groups to discuss issues concerning the camp’s future, population’s wellbeing and present challenges.
• 42 individual counseling sessions by Team Zamzam counselors and 16 group counseling sessions addressing sexual violence.
• 8 health guidance workshops on how necessary clean water is for a healthy life and how to avoid using polluted water.