Flight from home
29 October 2004
200,000 Darfurians have crossed the border to seek refuge in neighbouring Chad and roughly 1.4 million people fled their homes but remain displaced inside Darfur. Direct and systematic attacks against civilians provoked this mass displacement. For example, in a survey carried out in Kebkabyia village in North Darfur in August 2004, 98% of the people interviewed said they had to flee their village of origin because of violence.5
The displaced and refugees uniformly describe the perpetrators of these acts of violence as soldiers, Janjaweed6 or Arab men on horses and camels. People paint a horrifying picture of the massive flight from their homes.
MSF often works in conflict areas, where there is ongoing war and civil populations suffering the impacts of violence and deprivation. In most such circumstances, violence is an indirect killer - leading to massive public health crises with diseases and malnutrition responsible for most of the excess mortality.
Darfur does not fit this scenario.
Retrospective mortality surveys show that a huge number of people have died due to direct violence. In a study among 893 displaced families in Kalma, South Darfur, carried out in September 2004, nearly half of the 104 deaths (50) reported over a seven-month period for people over 5 years of age was due to violence. All but three of these deaths had occurred in people's home villages. Among displaced families in another camp in South Darfur, Kass, 59% of deaths in the previous 4 months in the age group 18 - 49 years was due to violence.
In Murnei camp7 in West Darfur, where 80 000 displaced people had fled from 111 different villages between September 2003 and February 2004, one in every 20 people or 5% of the original population of those villages were killed in violent attacks. Men accounted for three out of every four deaths, but women and children were also killed, with more than 75% of the deaths among women and 50% of the deaths among children reported due to violence.
"The attack on my village happened early in the morning. The Janjaweed and the Government soldiers were divided into three groups and each group had a different task. The first group took every man between the age of 18 and 40. They put them on trucks. Another group looted our huts. And the last group took the cattle. The Janjaweed told us [the women] that they would bring our men to Deleig. When we arrived in Deleig two days later, we saw the dead bodies of our men laying on the ground in the streets." Female IDP, 30, Deleig (West Darfur)
The consequences of this violence have not been felt equally by all population groups in Darfur. MSF works indiscriminately, and on an impartial basis, providing help to all people only according to need, yet the reality is thatthe majority of patients treated in MSF clinics and feeding centres are of Fur, Massaleit and Zaghawa tribal origin.
1.2. Pattern of attacks
Repeatedly people have described to MSF how the Janjaweed encircled their villages and fired guns at random to draw people out of their homes. Once people were outside their huts, the shooting was more targeted and people who tried to escape or defend themselves were killed. There was hardly any time to bury the dead with dignity as surviving family members had to flee for their own lives. Attacks are continuing in certain areas in North Darfur8 provoking similar mass displacement.
"I was in my house with my wife and children, when we suddenly heard some shooting. So we went outside. There were Janjaweed all around. They shot at me, in the chest, but I survived. But they killed my 3-year-old son, right in front of my eyes." Male IDP, 45, Deleig (West Darfur)
Attacks were also launched from the air. People described how Antonov planes began bombing villages, schools, mosques and health centres. As people tried to flee, the Janjaweed on the ground moved in to destroy the villages. On other occasions, the latter conducted ground attacks with support from land cruisers and powerful weapons.
"The Arabs attacked on 12 December 2003, at around 8a.m. They came on camels and horses. They left their camels and horses at distance and walked toward the village. They shot first blindly at the crowd and then in my direction. My brother who was standing next to me fell down when the shot hit him. We took his body to bury him in Al Geneina. But it was too unsafe to reach the city so we buried him on the road on our way to Chad." Refugee woman, 30, Mileta village (Chad)
"During the attack on my village, my husband got killed in front of me. While everybody ran away, I stayed with his dead body for three days. There was nobody to help me to bury the body. I covered his body with a piece of cloth and left." Female IDP, 40, Deleig (West Darfur)
1.3. Rape and sexual violence
Because of the sensitivity of this issue, the number of women reporting sexual violence in MSF clinics is thought to under-represent the scale of the problem. In many reported cases the rape happened several months ago and women and young girls had not dared to visit a health facility earlier to seek treatment and, undoubtedly, the majority will not have sought treatment at all.
Rape and the fear caused by rape is a prominent feature of the crisis in Darfur. MSF's medical activities have uncovered a high incidence of sexual violence. In a survey in Murnei camp, West Darfur, for example, nearly 14% of the 132 victims of violence treated by MSF medical teams from MSF from April to June 2004 were victims of sexual violence.
Most of the cases of sexual violence, which have come to MSF's attention, occurred during the original attacks on villages. Over a two-month period (August and September 2004), in South Darfur, MSF-Holland treated 123 victims of rape. At least 100 of these cases happened during the attacks on the victim's home villages. According to patients, in all cases the assailants were armed men9 who forced their victims at gunpoint. Gang rapes and abductions have also been reported. Among the cases MSF treated, five women told how armed men detained them for a few days, during which time they were raped several times and mistreated.
A 23-year-old woman described how a group of Janjaweed raped her during the attack of her village in January 2004. They asked her to take her clothes off but she refused and ran to the mosque. They followed her and raped and beat her in the mosque. She was left unconscious with wounds on her body and head due to the beating. Scars visible on her body supported this account.
"My father, brother and uncle were killed in my village by helicopter shots. While we were escaping the attack, on the road, the Janjaweed came with land cruisers and weapons." Female IDP, 15, Kalma camp (South Darfur)
1.4. Stripping the population
The attacks on the villages forced people to flee with nothing. The attackers stole or destroyed almost everything during the attacks on villages leaving people to try and survive in Darfur's hostile environment. Groups of distressed people were then continually harassed, beaten, raped and looted as they moved, to keep them in a state of fear and to ensure they left the area.
People recounted that the Janjaweed and the Government soldiers cut access to water sources and made holes in people's jerricans to prevent them from bringing water with them as they fled the violence. There are reports that many people, especially the most vulnerable ones (children and the elderly) died of thirst during the escape.
"The Janjaweed want to show that they are in control and hope that everybody will move away from the land. The rapes are a sign of provocation against Fur men/rebels: "if you're a man, you cannot let this happen to your wives; so come and fight against us". Then women are afraid to tell their husbands they have been raped since they don't want them to go and fight. They only say they have been beaten. But men are fully aware that their wives are raped..." Female IDP, 20, Garsila (West Darfur)
People fled, violence continued. Controlling most of the main roads and present in the fields, the Janjaweed continued to assault and rob the people as they fled their villages. Very often, the few belongings the displaced managed to bring along with them were stolen during raids along the roads. Villages and surrounding fields were literally burnt to the ground.
It is obvious when driving through the burnt villages that the destruction included not only the demolition of huts and food stocks, but also the devastation of fruit trees, irrigation and people's fields. There is nothing to sustain the survivors of the attacks should they desire to return to their villages.
"Some Government soldiers and Janjaweed encircled our village, Artala. They stopped us from going to the wells to take water and stole all our resources (food and belongings). They were all around the wells and they looted our huts. They also blocked the roads. The only road they left open was the road to Kubum." Male IDP, 40, Kubum IDP site (West Darfur)