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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Friday 7 October 2005

SUDAN: Khartoum destruction triggers southern returns

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

KHARTOUM, 7 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - Nandior Alu was waiting for transport to Abyei in Southern Kordofan State. Sitting at one of the bus stations in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, she anticipated the five-day walk from Abyei to her village.

"When I arrived in Khartoum I was not sure whether to stay or go back," she said. "After our houses were destroyed and some of my relatives were moved to the desert, I decided to take my children back home."

Alu had arrived in Khartoum six months earlier to reunite with her four children. Eleven years ago, she had sent them to the capital to escape civil war in her state of Bahr el Ghazal.

She is one of an estimated four million people displaced by the 21-year long north-south conflict. Approximately two million of these are thought to be living in camps and squatter areas around Khartoum.

Relief workers said the internally displaced persons (IDPs) and squatters live under very difficult conditions. Their settlements are regularly destroyed during so-called "replanning operations" by the State of Khartoum, despite concerns from the international community.

The destruction of settlements, they added, would exacerbate the flow of destitute people into the war-ravaged and desperately poor southern region at a time when it is barely able to sustain its current population.

Ongoing destruction

In the demolitions and relocations carried out in Khartoum IDP camps and squatter areas on 16 and 17 August, approximately 700 families were moved from the Shikan squatter area in Omdurman to El Fateh 3. This area is a desolate desert site devoid of most basic social services, some 55 km north of the city.

Many families had returned to Shikan following the wholesale destruction of all houses and buildings in Shikan in December 2004. At the time approximately 12,000 people were relocated to El Fateh 3. In August, they were again moved to El Fateh.

"This is the sixth time that my house in Shikan has been destroyed since the late nineties," a woman who declined to be named told IRIN. "I lost everything apart from some clothes."

Although she was one of the lucky ones officially entitled to a plot in Shikan, she did not have the requisite 130,000 Sudanese dinars (US $520) to pay for a certificate of ownership. As a result, she had been living in a "rakuba" - a makeshift tent made of plastic sheeting - on a site adjacent to Shikan for nine months.

"This site looks like a war zone, it has been totally demolished," Dennis McNamara, director of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) inter-agency internal displacement division, said when he visited Shikan on 23 September.

"There used to live 12,000 people here a few months ago. Now there is nothing," he added.

Other IDP families and urban poor had been rounded up in various areas of Khartoum and ended up in El Fateh as well. OCHA estimated that some 5,000 people were currently living in El Fateh 3 without proper shelter, sanitation, health and educational services.

Also, as most people in the informal settlements around the city depended on casual labour in domestic services and construction in Khartoum, the remoteness of many new settlements made the price of round-trip transport - about 500 Sudanese dinars or $2 - prohibitively expensive.

Fatima [not her real name] arrived in El Fateh 3 in mid-September, after the police moved her family there from El Rawda, a residential area north of Khartoum.

"The police came and asked us to pack our belongings. They brought my whole family here," Fatima told IRIN. "There is no way to make an income here so I'm planning to go back [to southern Sudan]."

Ismail Gorba [not his real name], who originates from the Nuba Mountains in Southern Kordofan State, recently returned from El Fateh 3, claiming it was - "just a desert" - compared to Shikan. He was living in a rakuba with his two wives and 11 children.

"Shikan was destroyed many times, but I kept on coming back because I had nowhere to go," he told IRIN. "Before the peace agreement, I was not thinking about going home, but now I'm considering it."

In his latest report on Sudan, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that contrary to previous commitments made by the Governor of Khartoum State, Abdel Haleem Ismail al-Mudafie, there had been new forced relocations of IDPs and squatters in settlements around Khartoum.

"Thousands of people have been forcibly moved to sites in desert areas tens of kilometres outside Khartoum where there are no, or wholly insufficient, life-sustaining services," Annan observed.

"These relocations, and the violence accompanying them, increase tensions in the greater Khartoum area, violate the right of the displaced to return voluntarily, and in dignity and safety, and also have the potential to undermine the transition towards peace and stability in the whole country," he added.

Mudafie told reporters recently that he had not seen Annan's report and was unable to comment on its allegations. He thought it unlikely, however, that large numbers of IDPs would return to the south, as many had lived in and around Khartoum for over a decade.

"What is clear is that Khartoum is expanding very rapidly and locations that were at the periphery 10 years ago have become prime property now, so the poorest and most vulnerable are pushed further out," Gemmo Lodesani, UN deputy humanitarian coordinator for north Sudan, said.

In May, violent protests by IDPs against an attempted relocation in the squatter area of Soba Aradi left 16 policemen and an estimated six civilians dead, while several thousand people were thrown in jail. About 200 people were still being detained, a humanitarian worker said.

OCHA estimates that since 1989, at least 665,000 IDPs have been forcibly relocated in Khartoum State, some 300,000 since 2004.

Violence triggers returns

Relief workers say IDP returns to the south were boosted by the signing on 9 January of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) by the Sudanese government and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). This was followed by the adoption of a new government of national unity and the end of the rainy season in October.

However, a further trigger occurred when violent riots engulfed Khartoum and left more than 100 people dead following the death of SPLM/A leader and Sudanese First Vice President John Garang in a helicopter crash on 30 July.

"The riots worked as a catalyst in a situation where the peace agreement was already in place," Riek Machar, vice president of southern Sudan, told reporters on 28 September in Juba, the capital of south Sudan.

"Since the disturbances following the tragic death of our friend Dr Garang, we have seen a lot of people who decided to pack their belongings and come back to the south, even during the rainy season," Machar added.

Even after the situation was brought under control, he added, there continued to be reports of lynching, which made people feel insecure.

"The rounding up of small groups of urban poor around the city and shipping them out of Khartoum was not happening at such a scale before the riots and seems to be a direct response to the violence," a humanitarian worker in Khartoum said.

"The peace is going very well but the situation in Khartoum is very bad," 67-year-old Michael Mudin Euan said as he sat at the Nile wharf in Kosti, south of Khartoum. "They murder southerners."

Euan had recently left Khartoum and was waiting for a barge to take him, his wife and their six children back home to Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile State.

"It seems that Garang's death and the riots pulled the leaders closer together, and Salva Kiir [Sudanese first vice president, southern Sudan's president and Garang's successor in the SPLM/A] spoke out strongly in favour of Sudanese unity," a political observer noted.

"At the same time, it seems to have further polarised the population into northern and southern, Arab-African camps," he added.

Meanwhile, the international community is hopeful that the new government of national unity - with a substantial number of representatives from the IDP's regions of origin - will have a positive impact on the treatment of the displaced populations around Khartoum.

"In particular, the government of national unity must ensure durable solutions for IDPs in Sudan, including their right of return, providing opportunities for effective integration at places of displacement and re-integration at places of return," Manuel Aranda da Silva, deputy special representative for the UN Secretary-General in Sudan and humanitarian coordinator, said.

However, Ismail Gorba, in Shikan, remained sceptical: "We are not expecting much from the SPLM/A in the new government. In July, the SPLM/A came to Shikan and told us we wouldn't be moved, but a few weeks later, it happened anyway."

"Garang's death, the violent riots in Khartoum, and the continuation of forced displacements to places such as El Fateh; they simply accelerated people's plans to return," the UN's Gemmo Lodesani said.

"You have to respect the voluntariness of returns, but you cannot guarantee this if people are being relocated against their will and forced to live under miserable living conditions," he added.


This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but May not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005

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