From a Home to a Camp: Life as an IDP in Sudan

Date Publish: 
Africa and Middle East / Sudan
Internally Displaced Persons

“Moving around this much is exhausting. There is never safety, and clean water is hard to find; it is too difficult to give my kids a safe home.”

Khadiga Adam Omer, a 45-year-old woman from East Jabal Marra, Karkor village, has six children, two girls and four boys whom she looks after with her husband. Before her displacement, Khadiga used to tend to the fields working as a farmer and looking after the family livestock, which provided their main daily income.

Khadiga describes her day-to-day life. “I wake up every day praying that today will be a good day, my children will be safe, my husband will make more money, and my goats will produce more milk.”

Like Khadiga, thousands of women in ZamZam IDP camp in North Darfur suffer from the same problems, including lack of access to safe sheltering materials and household items to enable IDPs to prepare food and provide a safe sleeping space for their children. ZamZam IDP camp is currently host to 153,147 residents (IOM DTM; PFWG North Darfur). Since the beginning of 2015, 6,739 new residents have been identified by IOM’s tracking hubs as new arrivals into ZamZam. IOM has received reports of gaps the provision of shelter, water sanitation and hygiene as well as in health care as there are only two functioning clinics within the camp which serve 153,147 residents.

As we move through the camp, the effects of continued displacement can be seen in the eyes of the women-- a sense of stagnancy and lack of hope and dreams is felt as they become accustomed to camp life and unfazed by the daily visits from the many organizations that work in and around the camp. Many of the families living in ZamZam are headed by females, who, like many other current residents, are carrying a great deal of responsibility and pressure simply to get through their day to day tasks and find better futures for their children. Constant outbreaks of conflict have forced communities to move several times, resulting in protracted and secondary displacements. Under this scenario, families continue to remain displaced for prolonged periods, and access to privacy and adequate protection from harsh climate becomes crucial to their survival.

Khaidga describes her hard 55 kilometers journey to ZamZam IDP Camp, “Our village was attacked by armed men, and they burned the houses, taking what they could, even grabbing the children. It was horrible! Immediately, I reached for my children and headed to the safe zone we had built underground in our village”. In this hideout, and similar set ups in other villages, women, children and the elderly were forced to seek refuge, waiting for the cries and scream to stop as they hear the destruction of their homes, looting of their villages, gunshots and worse.

As the sun set in Karkor, the roar of fighting had begun to settle and the silence of nightfall fell upon the village. Nevertheless, Khadiga and the others did not leave the shelter, as the group had been instructed beforehand, those who made it to the shelters were not to leave until the men from their village gave the all-clear. When the voices of men were heard calling for their loved ones, they begun to peer from the hole in the ground. Thankfully, Khadiga found her husband and her son, unharmed, among the survivors of the attack. That was the most important thing for her.

Khadiga continues, “We then went back to our house, or what was left of it anyway. It had been destroyed. We gathered what we could find: some clothes which had not been burnt, some cups, a pot which wasn’t taken-- anything that was left. Luckily, some of our goats had escaped, and to our surprise and blessing’s from Allah, four were discovered by my husband in the nearby bushes.” After gathering the few belongings left after the attack, Khadiga and her family set off on the long walk to ZamZam IDP camp under the harsh heat of the Sudanese sun.

Although Khadiga would have preferred to stay in her village, she feared future threats and knew that the camp offers protection and support through the many organizations working in the area. In addition, some of her relatives were already living in the camp and welcomed the newly arrived family with open arms. The solidarity and shared experience of displacement eased the process of finding accommodation upon arrival, and belongings were shared with relatives and friends. Nonetheless, the feeling of extreme vulnerability and risk would take more time to vanish. “Without a roof over our heads, you can never really feel safe. It was difficult at first as the pots we had were not sufficient to cook for the whole family, and the children slept on the ground because we had not managed to salvage all the materials from our home.”

Many of the IDP families who have arrived in ZamZam camp suffer from a lack of adequate shelter and household items, resulting in new arrivals and camp residents sharing what they have. Scattered all over the camp, one can see people sitting under the few trees around the camp, and children sleeping under frail, makeshift structures supported by branches without any blankets or mattresses. Households are often forced to await assistance in open spaces and unsanitary conditions, making them prone to numerous diseases and illnesses. Newborns and infants especially suffer from heat exposure.

Families do not have adequate income to sustain themselves and procure items which can help improve their way of life. In order to assist these families, IOMs non-food item (NFI) packages contains items to provide temporary emergency shelter (ES) (tarpaulin), bedding (sleeping mats and blankets), kitchen sets and hygiene material like jerry cans to store clean drinking and cooking water.  

In addition to the standard ES/NFI kits, IOM has also been providing improved emergency shelter assistance to IDPs in protracted displacement situations. The improved emergency shelter structure is fully supported by bamboo frames which are covered by locally produced grass mats. This structure has proven useful for camp based and rural communities during the winter and rainy seasons, offering enhanced protection in comparison to the plastic sheet.

The shelter and packages provided by IOM through generous funding from the Italian Development Cooperation and in close partnership with UNHCR and Plan Sudan, gave Khadiga and her family security and an enclosed space, which Khadiga uses to store the few belongings she and her family had salvaged from the attack on her village, as well as a private space for Khadiga and her children to enjoy necessary household privacy.

Relieved she says, “My husband feels he can protect us now with all these organizations around. The NFI kits, especially the kitchen sets containing new pans, pots and plates for the family have meant that I can now cook safer food for my kids and there is less chance of them getting sick.”

Remembering the family’s losses and the painful journey, she sadly asks herself, “Why did this happen to me? Am I a good mother? Sadly, I have come to realize that this is the circumstances of the country I currently live in. Many people are suffering like me, if not worse. I am eternally grateful that I am one of the thousands who has received help and support along the way. Without it, my family and I would still be burdening our relatives in their very limited space.”