Darfur, Sudan staff interview: 'I can still see them standing there, waiting'

Ineke Swaans is back from Darfur where she worked as a nurse for Médecins Sans Frontières in the town of Seleah. Since November 2006, some 14,000 people have arrived there after being forced out of their villages. "I've seen everything; wounds caused by a grazing shot to a gunshot wound that completely destroyed the hip and buttocks of a 10-year-old boy. There have also been wounds made by machetes and axes that were just thrust into someone's head.

"At this moment, the established militia and armed groups are splitting off, sometimes it seems like a new militia appears every day. Each group controls some areas, forcing out people they say don't belong there because they belong to a different ethnic group. Some of the displaced living around Seleah told me that people say, 'Pack your things and start walking. Go! You don't belong here.' They are afraid to return and some areas have become a no-man's-land. Nobody dares to trust anybody anymore."

Sheets and sorghum stems

The town of Seleah has a population of about 6,000 people. When thousands of people from the region around Muhajariya sought shelter there, an MSF team travelled there immediately to offer assistance.

"We provided blankets, jerry cans, soap and plastic sheets. The people used the sheets and sorghum stems to make some shelter. For some of them it is only seven kilometres back to their village: if the women return to harvest the crops, they run the risk of being raped or killed, or having their crops stolen.

"We run a clinic with a small nursing department that conducts approximately 300-400 consultations a week. In addition, the team vaccinates children against common illnesses and gives "home-based treatment" for malnourished children. At first there was only one place to get water, then another aid organisation drilled a second water hole."

Unbelievably strong

"In the beginning especially there were a lot of gunshot wounds. I started working there in the middle of December and I have treated five such victims myself. Wounds made by an exploding (dum-dum) bullet make a small hole when they enter the body but cause a great deal of damage inside. They also use bullets that make a small hole when they hit the body and a big one when they leave it. With these, you really have to search to follow the bullet's destructive path.

"I've seen everything; wounds caused by a grazing shot to a gunshot wound that completely destroyed the hip and buttocks of a 10-year-old boy. There have also been wounds made by machetes and axes that were just thrust into someone's head.

"Whole families have been forced to move, everyone from young to old. However, these are incredibly strong people who live under extremely difficult circumstances without complaining. They sit in their little huts with only one blanket during very cold nights. They just keep going with what they have.

"If I think back, I can still see them standing there, waiting by the water pump. When there was still only one pump, they had to wait up to 24 hours, day and night. You almost can't imagine it."