SHAFIA Abdullah’s Sudanese family is consumed with thoughts of vengeance after militia shot him dead during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, ending his advocacy for Darfur’s displaced people.
Abdullah’s murder is only one among many in Darfur’s years of war but it symbolises what residents say is a worsening security situation, leaving little to celebrate as the Eid al-Fitr festival approaches next week. Abdullah, 35, lived in Central Darfur’s Hassa Issa camp for the displaced and was gunned down on July 5, a relative said.
“Militia stopped him and asked him to hand over his phone. When he refused, they shot him and took it,” said the family member who asked not to be named. Relatives suspect the murder is linked to his work on behalf of others who have been uprooted in the region. “Our family won’t experience the joy of Eid. But we are committed to taking revenge against those who killed him,” the relative said from Hassa Issa, where they have lived for 10 years after escaping unrest in Darfur’s East Jebel Marra.
Violence throughout Darfur has been as bad this year as it was then. At its worst level in a decade, the 2014 unrest has left about 257,000 people homeless. That has helped push to around 2.2 million the number uprooted and living in camps in Darfur, where the United Nations says new arrivals are at risk of disease because of over-stretched water and sanitation services. Though they fled in search of security, they haven’t found it.
“I don’t feel safe here,” said Hassan Haroun, 27, who will spend his first Eid in a camp, after running from this year’s violence in which paramilitary troops were accused of attacking villages. “Sometimes we hear gunfire, and people are kidnapped or shot,” Haroun said from Zam Zam camp near the North Darfur capital, El Fasher. Residents of Zam Zam and other camps rely on aid from the UN World Food Programme (WFP). Most get monthly handouts of sorghum, salt, sugar and oil. Some, including those in Zam Zam, receive vouchers which can be exchanged for a wider variety of market goods. “There’s nothing to do here, only collect donated foods,” Haroun complains. “Ramadan here is completely different from in our village.” Eid won’t be the same either. “I should buy new clothes for my children but this year I can’t because I don’t have a job,” Haroun says. “I really want to go back to my village because the rainy season is starting. If things were secure I could be cultivating my farm. But that seems impossible.”
The inability of displaced villagers to plant “will have an impact on food insecurity”, or shortages, says WFP’s Amor Almagro. “We used to be farmers and now we depend on NGO aid,” said Mohammed Eshaq, spending his 10th Ramadan at Abu Shouk on the edge of El Fasher. After so long, Abu Shouk resembles not so much a “camp” but an urban community of mud-brick buildings. Once a secure refuge, it no longer feels safe and the situation “has been getting increasingly bad” over the past year, Eshaq said.
President Omar al-Bashir and Defence Minister Abdelrahim Mohammed Hussein are both wanted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur. Insurgents from black tribes in the western region rose up 11 years ago against what they said was the domination of Sudan’s power and wealth by Arab elites. In response, the government turned to “Janjaweed” militia recruited from Arab tribes. They were accused of atrocities against civilians, and have since been incorporated into official paramilitary units.
Authorities acknowledge “they are increasingly losing control over paramilitaries, who have been the main source of insecurity in Darfur for two years”, the International Crisis Group of analysts said in a January report. Militias in search of resources have turned on each other, and sometimes against the government, while violent crime has increased. The situation in Darfur, “seems to be getting worse,” a foreign diplomat told AFP.
Under a state of emergency declared this month, the South Darfur governor forbade people in civilian clothes from carrying weapons, official media said. Unrest used to be only in the distant countryside but South Darfur’s capital Nyala has become increasingly insecure over the past two years because of the “militia” presence, said a human rights activist who asked for anonymity. “Now there is a lot of looting and you can hear shooting at night,” he said, adding that high food prices have also “changed the mood of people during Ramadan”. Most no longer have enough money to support themselves, says Omar Hamid, a Nyala grocer whose revenue has dropped 50 percent over the past two years. “I might close up after Eid because business is getting worse and worse and I don’t feel safe in my shop,” Hamid said.
“There is a lot of fear” which has affected Ramadan traditions, says another Nyala resident, Omar Adam, 45. “Some people stopped going to the mosque in the evening, and most no longer go out to visit relatives”, Adam said. “This Eid will definitely not be a happy one.”
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