“I don’t know if my husband is safe”
The story of one family forced to flee the violence in Darfur’s Jebel Marra area, in Sudan
“He told me to take the children and leave the village immediately,” said Meriam Mohamed Ahmed, recalling the night she last saw her husband when, a month ago, violence broke out in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Abdul Wahid faction of the Sudan Liberation Army.
Meriam’s family is from Sigire village in East Jebel Marra. “Just as we were preparing to leave, our village was attacked. Our homes were burnt and the attackers took everything: our donkeys, sheep, goats and any food we had stored,” she recalled, painfully.
A perilous journey
Meriam, 35, and her five children, left Sigire and trekked down the mountain on foot, carrying some belongings on a donkey and what little they could find to feed the children for a few days.
The Jebel Marra is a mountainous region with peaks that reach nearly 3,000 meters of altitude. Most people who flee their villages there have no choice but to make a perilous journey down the steep slopes, until they reach a road. The lucky ones run into a car that can take them to Tawilla ; others are forced to make the entire journey on foot or by donkey. During the trip, many of the displaced are stopped and robbed by armed groups.
“I was carrying my youngest child on my back and some of our things on my head. The older children were helping me and the donkey carried the small children and some of our belongings,” she said. “We were on constant alert. If we heard fighting, we hid in the valleys and caves. Once the fighting stopped, we would start walking again,” she told us. After two days of walking down the mountain, they finally reached a road. “From there, somebody took us in a truck and brought us to safety.”
The family has now found shelter at a new site for displaced people in Tawilla, North Darfur.
Meriam’s husband, Abdul Maula Saleh, like many other men in the village, urged their wives and children to seek safety. “We are here and he is there. I just do not know whether my husband is safe or not,” she said.
Their son, Ahmed, was enrolled in school before they fled their village and, like many other school-aged children fleeing hostilities in the Jebel Marra, he is no longer receiving an education.
Food, shelter and water/sanitation services desperately needed
The people taking shelter in Tawilla say that they urgently need food and shelter and, according to community leaders, water and sanitation services are insufficient for all the new arrivals.
Some of the displaced people who have been in the camp for longer are housed in new, temporary shelters that can accommodate several families each. Mothers who have just arrived — like Meriam — are in need of shelter to protect their children from the scorching sun during the day and the cold weather at night.
Meriam and her children were among the luckier families, as they managed to stay together throughout the journey. Earlier this month, many children in Tawilla were reported to have been separated from their families, arriving with other relatives, family friends or neighbours, or completely alone. As people continue to be forced out of their homes, the number of unaccompanied children is likely to increase.
Tawilla is 60 km west of the North Darfur capital El Fasher, and there are some existing camps for displaced people in the area, many of whom came from different villages in East Jebel Marra, West Jebel Marra and Jebel Si.
As of 22 February, there were 80,000 internally displaced persons in North Darfur State. Estimates for Central Darfur vary between 1,000 and 50,000; confirmation of these numbers has not been possible by the United Nations due to lack of access.
“Urgent assistance is required for the new arrivals,” Tawilla Locality Commissioner Adam Yagoub Jadid told the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator Amy Martin, who witnessed first-hand the living conditions in Tawilla camp this week. “We appreciate what is being done to support the people in need but more keep arriving and more resources are urgently needed,” the Commissioner added.