Kalma Camp, with 95,000 inhabitants the biggest of them all, is located on a flat and sandy piece of land between a dry riverbed and the railway line connecting Darfur with the rest of Sudan. A strip of human misery and suffering stretches for kilometers along the tracks. Even in the last few months, more people have been arriving in search for security and assistance. Villages are still being attacked, families killed, belongings stolen and crops destroyed. Some people are displaced for a second or third time.
Despite peace talks, for the people of Darfur the humanitarian crisis is not over. More then two million people, who had to flee their villages and homes because of the violence, are still living in settlements and camps all over the region.
Kalma camp, with 95,000 inhabitants the biggest of them all, is located on a flat and sandy piece of land between a dry riverbed and the railway line connecting Darfur with the rest of Sudan. A strip of human misery and suffering stretches for kilometers along the tracks. Even in the last few months, more people have been arriving in search for security and assistance. Villages are still being attacked, families killed, belongings stolen and crops destroyed. Some people are displaced for a second or third time.
"There in our village we were attacked and it was war. Here in Kalma they say it's a bit safer, and that's why we came to stay here."
Living conditions in Kalma are rough. The shelters and the plastic sheeting don't keep the constant wind and the dust out. The days are hot, the night are cold. The whole family is sleeping under one single blanket on mats or plastic sheets on the sand. Parasites crawl through the mats and burry under their skin. They are bitten by mice and by other things crawling around.
Still, in some ways the situation here is not as bad as in many other places in Darfur. Because Kalma is easily accessible – one of the main airports in Darfur is nearby – TV cameras soon found their way, turning the camp in a symbol for the crisis in Darfur. Above the sea of tiny shelters the flags of a host of humanitarian organisations are flapping in the wind. They provide water, food, shelter and medical care. There is a large market where almost anything can be bought; from sorghum to chilled Coca Cola.
But there is no escape from the continuing violence. Kalma is an enclave, almost a prison without walls. Men looking for work in town, can always be stopped at the checkpoints, and interrogated or worse. Women, who have to collect firewood outside of the camp to cook meals for their families, run the risk of being raped. The trees in the vicinity of the camp have all been cut, so they have to walk further and face more danger every time. Unfortunately the MSF still regularly sees survivors of rape in the clinic in Kalma.
"He grabbed my wrist and forced my arm on my back, and when I bended over because of the pain he beat me on my back. Three, four times, very hard. After he hit me on my back, I fell on the ground. He raped me, and grabbed me by my throat."
So people stay inside the camp when they can, close to each other, hoping that there is some safety in numbers. Men walk about aimlessly, women queue for water or handouts of food. Sometimes armed men on horses or camels appear near the northern edge of the camp and fire shots in the air before they ride off – as if they want to rub in the precariousness of their situation. Fear and constant insecurity are the norm in their daily lives. Many people have been living in Kalma for almost three years now, sometimes too afraid to venture out of the camp even once.
"All people are afraid to leave. It is a very crowded place, very hot. It all comes back to you: the time in your villages, that they shot and killed your father and your mother. In your mind you come back there."
MSF has started to provide mental health counselling to alleviate the worst suffering of the displaced. But the people of Kalma have little prospect of going home and rebuilding their lives. When the parties in the conflict pursue a political instead of a military solution that offers some hope. Currently, MSF continues to see patients in our clinics in Darfur that have suffered from violent attacks and forced displacement from their villages. Only once the violence comes to a halt can people start thinking about going home and rebuilding their lives. Kalma camp is still there.