Sudan: Displacement - A Thorny Issue

opinion

You can recognize them from the first glance: They are the poor of the cities who fled the inferno of war in their home villages. They come to the cities in search of means of survival. Their faces tell the reality of their misery. Their children are tramps, many of their youths are idle and addicts and many of their elders are beggars.

The reality of displaced Sudanese is not different from that of millions of displaced persons around Africa, regardless of the causes of displacement here and there.

The predicament of these displaced citizens (in particular women and children) has raised international sympathy after their numbers had multiplied and their conditions had worsened, in Africa in particular.

According to a United Nations report "Africa hosts nearly a third of the world's refugees and internally displaced people. Despite the continent's own social, economic and security challenges, Africa's governments and people have kept borders, doors and hearts open to millions in need."

This assessment is detailed in that 6.3 million refugees and 14.5 million internally displaced persons live in Africa.

This places Africa as the second in the world in terms of hosting refugees and displaced persons.

It seems the numbers are on the increase under the harsh conditions surrounding the continent.

These pressing needs of the refugees and the internally displaced has prompted the African Union's heads of state and government to launch 'the 2019 Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced People' that seeks to eliminate forced displacement and asylum and to tailor out lasting solutions for these problems in the continent.

But despite this mounting regional and international concern, the causes of asylum and displacement do not seem to change or improve in the foreseeable future, according to a lot of reasons given by academics and specialists.

The African Union attributes displacement and asylum to political instability, absence of civic peace and what it called "weak good governance", human rights violations, conflicts, terrorism, poverty, in addition to environmental degradation, drought, climate change and natural disasters.

And Sudan is no exception in this. The country ranks high on the list of countries affected by internal displacement. Sudan has an estimated 5 million displaced citizens, most of whom live in Khartoum, the Capital. Most of these displaced citizens had fled their original homes because of natural conditions like drought and desertification or because of the security situation (protracted conflicts and wars). Displacement is also caused by instability and uneven development where the government concentrates development plans in the Capital and some towns. The end product of this is the deteriorating living, economic and social conditions in the original areas of these citizens that drove them to seek refuge in major cities, Khartoum in particular.

According to Academic Jibreel Adam Jibreel, who specializes in this domain, the state policy towards the displaced was to assemble them in specific locations where it can easily render services to them. For instance in 1992 hundreds of thousands of citizens dwelling in shanty towns or inside houses under construction were assembled in four camps outside the Capital Khartoum. These were the Salam (peace) camps in Omdurman, Jebel Awliya, Mayo and Wad Albashir camps here. In 2010 other locations were added North of Omdurman. These were Alfateh camps for the displaced.

According to estimates, adds Mr. Jibreel, the number of displaced citizens in Khartoum has reached 2 million, 273,000 of them living in camps while the rest live inside Khartoum or, else, assembled in different locations. But the daily high influx of displaced from the different regions and the refugees from neighboring countries had created an insurmountable condition that created a new tragic reality that represented a heavy burden and caused a decline in the level of basic education, health, transport and security services.

Jibreel Adam

According to a survey conducted in 2003 by the NGO CARE, the UNDP and IOM among the displaced in Khartoum, it was found that most of these displaced depend on NGOs and UN agencies in education and that 44% of them did not get any education while 56% of the children of the displaced (between 6-18 years) had enrolled in schools. But the survey has indicated that the children's acquisition rate was poor (57,7%) due to lack of good preparation for education, lack of adequate school teaching aides and parents' inability to pay school fees. Just 11% of the schools and classrooms were constructed with proper materials. It was also found that 74,7% of the displaced were unemployed, while healthcare was at a humble rate of 30%.

The camps of the displaced are generally insecure because these people usually live on the periphery of cities where the state authority is weaker and official presence is little. Those factors create a state of lawlessness. Due to the harsh living conditions and inadequate resources, the displaced opt to illegal ways for earning a living like thefts, extortion, dealing in liquor, drugs and weapons, in addition to jugglery and humbug. What has aggravated the lawlessness problem in those camps was that most of the displaced tribes have taken their tribal animosities and ethnic conflicts with them as they settled inside the towns and cities. The difference in customs between the original dwellers of these areas and those of the newcomers has resulted in bloody conflicts and frictions. Police records cite a lot of such conflicts, according to studies.

Mr. Jibreel says the international NGOs had used to render food and health and educational services to the displaced up to 1998. But after that the NGOs started to squeeze their services around Khartoum, in particular after the eruption of the conflict in Darfur in 2003 and also after the signing of the Darfur peace accords. They left the displaced around Khartoum to face their fate.

Shrafeddin Bannaga

He said this situation had obliged the displaced to act on their own, where a few men worked in the construction sector and other private occupations while some women chose to work as house maids. Some new grassroots NGOs have sought to serve their communities, while government assistance remained limited until the government adopted an initiative to provide the displaced with residential land plots, a move that met tremendous success. The restructuring of the camps was a big step towards the integration of the displaced in the new communities, said Mr. Jibreel.

He said the government had developed the camps into proper residential areas. Accordingly, the Alsalam camp in Omdurman was re-planned into a normal residential area by the end of 2005. This re-planning included the removal of some buildings. Some 11,000 families were allocated residential land plots. In 2009 the displaced were resettled in some parts of Southern Khartoum. But because the new residential areas were far away from where the displaced used to work, many of them returned and settled down in squatters inside the cities in order to secure working opportunities.

The Alfath camp was launched in 2002. It was already a pre-planned area. Its inhabitants are a mixture of displaced persons and persons coming from the different squatters around the city. Settlement continued until 2010 and although its dwellers were granted land plots, yet many of its residents (80%) leased their homes to others and returned to the squatters.

Former Minister of Urban Planning in Khartoum State Dr. Shrafeddin Bannaga is of the view that the dire economic conditions are the most to blame for displacement, in particular under the current trend for globalization and the crystallizing new international order which is based on industry and innovation as compared to the local economies which are based on traditional agriculture which is giving way to urban development.

Dr. Bannaga said the displacement problem cannot be resolved within the local framework. It requires macro solutions, he said.

He indicated the need to implement balanced and sustainable projects and the need for good economic planning where balanced, integrative and sustainable development is achieved throughout the country's regions.

The neglect of the rural areas and the un-equitable distribution of wealth and development are a hindrance to the voluntary return of the displaced, he said.

He said many of the displaced have now settled down in Khartoum and that their displacement to Khartoum has equipped them with new working skills. In addition, most of those who returned to their original homes have come back to Khartoum, a matter that subjected them to the agony of displacement once again.

But despite the problems that faced the settlement of the displaced around the capital Khartoum, this step is the ideal solution given the provision of working opportunities and permanent lodging for them, maintains Dr. Bnnaga.

So can the voluntary return option proposed by the AU Summit Conference stop the influx of displaced citizens?

The prevailing conditions in Africa show that the displacement problem will remain an intricate problem as the African countries lack the ability to implement the prescribed solution of preventing displacement and the tackling of the existing situation.

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