30-November-2021

What It Means To Be A Displaced Person

What It Means To Be  A Displaced Person

By: Hanan Hassan

KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Adam’s heart beats rose and he felt a short of breath, out of fear. He was fast asleep when that strange terrifying voice made him wake up.

He could not move his finger or open his eyes to discern the source of that voice in the dark that engulfed everything around him. But after an age-long pause, he could realize that the voice was coming from outside the shed he and his three siblings and their grandma were sleeping in.

With great difficulty, he stretched his hand to feel around him. He found that all his family members were around him, save his grandma. His fear then increased when he began to think that the source of the voice might have taken his granny away. Is it the ghul (superstitious creature) he had heard the people speak of.

But at last he gathered some courage and rolled his body on the dust floor he was sleeping on, reaching the shed opening despite the thick darkness of that cold winter night. Outside the shed he found something perching on the ground. He quickly closed his eyes and could not move. At last he could discern that the thing so heaped on the ground was his granny. She was sitting on the ground praying, trying to muzzle her crying so as not to awaken an infant who cried too much out of hunger until he fell asleep that night. The food they had was finished and none of it was left. She was complaining and praying: What would I do and how can I bring these youngsters up? From where can I feed them? I have no profession and do not know the language of this place.

He sat on the ground, watching his granny. He could not feel the bitter cold nor the sound of the heavy wind outside. Instead he continued to think about what his grandma was saying and what he  would do. Neither he nor his grandmother would move from that place until it was dawn.    

They came to this town in the company of their uncle and his mother, fleeing the agony of war in Darfur. Their trip to this place was not that easy. Their uncle lodged them in this shed he built in a hurry from cardboard and jute sacks on the outskirts of the Capital, as do many of the war escapees.

His uncle stayed with them for over a fortnight, took their mother to work in a restaurant and left to join the other fighters.

Their mother used to get out at dawn and return at dusk, bringing with her everything: food, kindness and care.

They used to wait for her return on the roadway. But before she would return, that good looking shoeshiner boy would precede her back home, carrying his carefully ornamented box in which he kept the tools of his trade. On the sides of the box he had fixed juice bottle caps on  which he used to play his fingers, making sounds his siblings loved too much. With him he carried gifts of dates, groundnuts and  grilled melon seeds. As an additional gift, he would let the kids play for sometime with his box and then get in.

But that day their mother would not return. They waited for her until dark but she would not come. They then returned to the shed and waited for their mother in fear. But they had to wait for too long.

The next day evening two men came over carrying bags stuffed with food. They sat with the old woman, telling her that her daughter was killed in a car crash and they had buried her.

That was the story narrated to me by Adam, the young shoeshiner near the University of Khartoum. I had kept watching him, sitting on a bench, while waiting for one of my friends. He was working in a surprising hurry.

“Why the hurry?,” I asked him.

“It is this hurry that attracts customers to him,” one of the customers intervened to reply.

Then I continued to repeat my question. He said he works at that place just until noon prayer time for fear his granny would feel worried about him. The old woman was keen he should be back home before evening.

Then I asked him since when did he work in that trade. He told me that he took this trade full time after that long night when his mother did not return home. He said that night he decided to take over all the duty of feeding his family. After sunrise the shoeshiner came to their place. He did not talk much with him, but clung to his hand and left with him. He said he had kept working for four years to feed his family.

I could not find words to say anything. I started to remember all the hard-working kids I have seen, kids who look fatigued by the labor of carrying heavy weights beyond their power.

They paid the bill of war. The suffering lived by this family is certainly repeated in many more places. Most of the dwellers of the margins of cities have deserted their home areas, running away from war.

After two decades of unrest in Darfur, about 1.6 persons could not return to their home areas because many of those places are still unsafe. Intercommunal violence and militias attacks against civilians continue to recur one time after the other.

This year a report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Sudan said the number of the displaced persons in West, North and South Darfur has reached 183,000 due to tribal violence that also left tens dead or hurt.

The old and new displaced citizens have lost all their farming lands and livestock. They have also left behind the belongings they collected throughout their lives.

The critical situation they live in is full of difficulties. According to a study conducted in this respect by researcher Fatima Abdelmajeed, the places that house the displaced on the outskirts of cities lack the resources for decent living and are also insecure due to weak government authority, rendering the entire environment lawless. What aggravates this lawlessness is also that some tribes have taken their conflicts with them to their new places. This leads to clashes and, accordingly, insecurity in these areas. The spread of unlicensed firearms and other weapons are also part of the causes of insecurity.

In Khartoum the wide economic and social gap between the rich and poor quarters is very clear. Whereas we find modern houses and deluxe limousines in some places, we find shacks made of tin and jute sacks in the others’ houses that do not protect from the heat of summer nor the cold of winter. In the latter hunger and the other miseries of life encourage violence of sorts. Part of that violence is associated with looting and stealing or what is known as crimes of need. 

These marginal areas also lack social services whereby the hospitals are scarce. There is no electricity or running water. Citizens have to carry water by carts for long distances. Public transport and schools are also inadequate. The study has cited low literacy and a high rate of school dropouts. That is because the children had turned their backs on education and went to work to help their families. Among them there are also those who deserted their families and went wayward.This is a situation undeniable. This suffering is common among all the displaced.

Anthropology Doctor Tamir Mohammad Ahmed, a professor at the University of Khartoum, is of the view that the displaced who fled their home areas and settled down around Khartoum and other cities are the most worthy of collecting the benefit of peace and its dues. They have continued to live under harsh conditions, without any hope in decent living. Now they are in need of returning to their home areas. What had displaced them was the insecurity and the first thing that encourages them to go back is sustainable peace.

Dr. Tamir also said fear from a repeat of war looks an understandable factor, especially when we understand that the historical accumulation of previous peace agreements has rendered the citizens outlook towards peace a negative one.

He stressed the importance of implementing the security arrangements of the Juba Peace Agreement by merging the rebel movements in the national army.

This will help build the citizens’ confidence in the national army when the army is converted from an enemy fighting them to a force that protects them. But this mood requires time to take roots. And for this reason there is need to speed up the implementation of the security arrangements.

Dr. Tamir however considers the repatriation of the displaced requires funding and full preparation. Economic terms for this section in the Juba peace deal should be implemented with respect to land ownership. Indemnities should be made and the damage caused by the war should be repaired. Suitable locations should be designed for the resettlement of the displaced. The budget previously allocated for war should be diverted towards reconstruction, development, services and the creation of job opportunities.

About the hurdles that face the implementation of the peace agreement, Dr.Tamir said it is sad that there is a tribal tendency to get jobs. Instead of creating social concord, ethnic feelings are being fanned by the enemies of peace and the remnants of the ousted regime. This is a threat to peace. The delay in effecting the security arrangements has created a lot of militarization in Darfur. 

Dr. Amir Abdalla, a researcher in sociology at the Alnelain University, has reaffirmed the need to return the displaced to their original villages. Women and children were the most to suffer from the war and what happens to them is a crime. For that there is need for serious action from all parties and from the entire society to reintegrate and reunite families, he said.

He said a political willpower should exist for the close follow up of the repatriation of the displaced. This is the responsibility of all the government bodies and also the social grassroots through campaigns to disseminate the culture of peace and stop hostile media campaigns for stability and for development to prevail.   

That grandmother, and despite of her suffering is hopeful that her grandson would take them back home. She craves for the shady trees she had planted in her village. She craves for the good company of her relatives and friends like in the good old days when they owned everything, farms and livestock and never needed to buy anything except salt. Even the sugar they did not need to buy. The honey from their beehives had used to do that job.

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YH/AS 

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