In commemoration of World Refugee Day, Darfur Women Action Group is writing to express our grave concern regarding the situation of the Darfur refugees scattered in many countries that neighbor Sudan. The enduring crisis in Darfur has brought unprecedented suffering to the local people and to those who have been forced to flee the region. We, therefore, request that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees provide protection for the genocide-affected refugees from Darfur, specifically protection pursuant to the international laws mandated in order for them to be able to live dignified lives while waiting relocation processing.
We are also extremely concerned about the allegation of disparate treatment of the Darfuri and other African refugees in comparison with non-African refugees within the North African and Middle Eastern regions. We hope to bring these concerns that have been brought to us by our constituencies to your attention for verification and, if found to be true, to be effectively addressed.
The overwhelming majority of Sudanese refugees are genocide victims and survivors from Darfur who are being targeted for persecution. We believe that not under any circumstance should survivors be returned to Sudan, due to the realistic fear of torture and threat to their lives that began 13 years ago and that still persists to this day.
From December 18 to 19, 2015, over 700 Darfuri refugees, who had escaped the genocide, were suddenly and forcibly deported from Jordan back to Sudan to face the very genocidal regime that they had fled. Most of these refugees had been recognized by the UNHCR in Jordan. However, the local UNHCR Office in Amman refused to recognize them, allowing for the Jordanian authority to mistreat them and force them into deportation. While the UNHCR Office in Amman has not intervened for help for these refugees, we have received hundreds of ID copies from the deported refugees confirming that they were in fact officially recognized by the UNHCR.
As a result of this deportation, many families have been torn apart, resulting in children being separated from their parents. Refugees who were sent back have been detained and tortured by the Sudanese government’s security apparatus and stripped of their national IDs and passports. Furthermore, many of their families are still unaware of their basic whereabouts.
Threats to survival outside of Sudan:
We appreciate the efforts of the UNHCR in assisting refugees; however, the crisis in Darfur is of global magnitude which needs to be carefully understood and properly responded to in relation to the urgency of the conditions of the people affected by the genocide and who continue to feel its consequences.
Today, the suffering of the Darfur refugees has gone on for far too long. From 2003 until the present day, over one million Darfuris have been forced to flee. Some have died on their way to safety, while others have crossed the borders into neighboring countries and are currently living in deplorable conditions in Egypt, Libya, Chad, Ghana, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, and many more.
Although recognized by the UNHCR, many refugees have been placed on long waiting lists, waiting several months for an initial interview to claim asylum or, worse, over 10 years for the relocation process. This is demoralizing and serves only to add to their sense of despair. Many of them are women who are heads of their household, because their husbands have been detained, killed, or forced to flee. In addition, many countries, such as Jordan, prohibit refugees from their right to work. If refugees are able to find work, often they will either be jailed or deported back to Sudan to face unimaginable risks. That is why we appeal to you to understand the unique vulnerability of the genocide-affected refugees from Darfur.
The current situation in Darfur:
Having begun 13 years ago and continuing to this day, Darfur is one of the world’s longest genocides. Violence, rape, arrests, and torture have devastated the lives of the innocent civilians in Darfur. Countless men, women, and children have lost their lives, while the living continue to endure horrendous suffering and have nowhere to turn.
From January 1, 2016 through the second week of that month, the people of Mouli region and the city of El Geneina (the capital of West Darfur) have been subjected to brutal attacks by the Janjaweed militants, now called the Rapid Support Forces by the Sudanese government. It is reported that 14 people were killed and over 150 wounded in El Geneina, with the majority being high school students. For more than two weeks, civilians were terrified by the attacks and severe human rights abuses, and more than 5,000 families were forced to flee. Sadly, these are people who have been displaced several times during the last 13 years.
Consequently, a new surge of violence continues in Central Darfur today, one in which the government of Sudan has renewed and intensified attacks including aerial bombings in Jebel Marra. The targeted areas are inhabited by civilians, a majority of whom are women and children. According to sources on the ground, over 200 villages around Jebel Marra have been completely destroyed and over 400,000 people have been forced to flee, some to the caves at the top of the Marra Mountains. The remainder has been driven to camps and nearby cities where the UN has estimated that approximately 133,000 people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. They have been left to face the harsh winter and the heat of the summer and rain without shelter or food. Reports have also confirmed that many women and girls have been raped and some taken hostage by the Janjaweed and other Government forces; their fates remain unknown. Many more of those who have not been able to flee are trapped in the top mountains and are living in caves without humanitarian assistance.
The Ongoing Tragedy:
What you may not know is that approximately 233,000 Darfuris were reportedly displaced in the first quarter of 2016, in addition to the hundreds of thousands who were already displaced. Over three million people still remain in camps and have been there for as long as 13 years, as violence escalates and humanitarian efforts are severely restricted by the government of Sudan. Rape and various forms of sexual violence continue at an alarming rate in the displacement camps, where women are the predominant victims. Millions of Darfuris remain displaced and have continued to live in fear for 13 years without the possibility of returning home, while the number of newly displaced people continues to grow exponentially. Many of the targets also include college students who are being abducted, imprisoned, and killed. The genocide continues unabated.
The Challenges Facing Darfur:
President al-Bashir, the mastermind behind the genocide and a man indicted and wanted by the ICC, is still actively pursuing his genocidal policy in Darfur and other regions of Sudan. Despite the alarming situation in Darfur, the international community has chosen to ignore it. Similarly, the mainstream media has failed to cover the current situation and the ongoing genocide is no longer making headlines in any of the major international news outlets.
The government of Sudan has made every effort to isolate Darfur from the outside world and has consequently blockaded access to information. UNAMID, the forces that have been put in place to protect civilians, has failed to carry on its mandate and as it remains, is under severe restrictions. It has been characterized by impartiality, incompetence and often does not report deaths and sexual violence committed by the regime forces, which were previously reinforced by the former UNAMID spokesperson, Aicha Albasri.
Attacks on human rights defenders and the systematic targeting of Darfur University Students have intensified in the last 4 years, forcing many students out of schools with nowhere to go. When they seek refuge, they face many more challenges and no opportunity to continue their education.
Change in the Narrative:
Many advocates have moved away from Darfur or condone the change of the narrative that the government of Sudan and its allies want to hear, replacing the word “genocide” with “atrocities” in order to water down the urgency of the situation. This has allowed the international community, including UN agencies, to treat Darfur with less intensity. The world’s attention, therefore, has naturally moved away from Darfur, despite the fact that violence has not abated and refugee numbers continue to rise.
The world may think the crisis in Darfur has ended because it is not being reported in the news, but the truth is that over 460,000 Darfuris were displaced in 2013, another 500,000 in 2014, and over 233,000 people during the first quarter of 2016. In one day alone on October 31st, 2014, 221 women and girls were raped in a Tabit village and the perpetrators have yet to suffer any consequences. This is not an isolated incident, but a systematic tactic and deliberate policy of the regime, which continues to use rape as a weapon of war in Darfur.
In the beginning of 2016, a new surge of violence, employing the strategy of the Sudanese government’s “scorched earth” campaign began. In a recent statement, the Sudanese Vice President reported that the government of Sudan has declared a plan to end displacement by 2017, which effectively means wiping out even those who are helpless within the internally displaced camps in Darfur.
Amidst the harassment, threats, and attacks Darfuris receive by the Sudanese government, referendums were conducted to determine the future of Darfur, even though Darfuri victims have no ability to vote. There is a strong possibility that there will be a distribution of Darfuri land to Arab tribes and the new settlers that Sudan brought in to overtake the Darfur region. If allowed to happen, this is a climactic move which signifies the final stage of the Darfur genocide. What is happening in Darfur today is very systematic and directed towards the same group whom the government has singled out for extermination since 2003. It is Sudan’s “Final Solution” within its campaign.
Due to the aforementioned factors, we believe it is imperative that the UNHCR make every effort to effectively address the situation of the long suffering Darfuri refugees.
That is why we need your support and implore you to take the following steps to ensure that genocide-affected refugees are protected and treated with dignity.
We urge the UNHCR to:
- Review its refugee processing and relocation mechanism
- Provide support to the refugees while they are waiting for their application to be processed
- Expedite the cases of women-headed households, youths, and the disabled
- Investigate the allegation of disparate treatment of the African refugees (particularly Darfuris) in the MENA regional offices
- Launch an international appeal in collaboration with Darfuri advocates to secure funding in order to support a timely and dignified process for Darfuri refugees
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We are most grateful for your consideration,
Niemat Ahmadi, Founder and President, Darfur Women Action Group
Norrie Kurtz, Chair, Darfur Women Action Group
1050 17th Street. Suite #1000
Washington, DC 20036