On Sunday, approximately 250 displaced families were forced to return once again to camps in Kabkabiya in North Darfur after mediation attempts with new settlers in their home villages failed.
Some of the returnees had traveled all the way from refugee camps in eastern Chad and temporarily settled in Kabkabiya in anticipation of the voluntary repatriation project in Sabarna area. Most families have been displaced since the start of the war in Darfur in 2004.
A source in the area of Sabarna told Radio Dabanga that commanders of Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Major ‘Hamad’ and Major Habib Shigeifat, have tried to mediate between the displaced people who returned to the area and the new settlers on the lands.
Negotiations stalled when the commanders gave the group of new settlers the option to give up land in return for the provision of security, to which the new settlers protested. They have not agreed with it so far.
The events have led to the failure of the voluntary return, thus prompting the returnees to go back to the camps for displaced people in Kabkabiya.
“The government of Sudan assured their access to land.” – UNHCR spokesman
In April, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Commissioner of Refugees (COR) assisted dozens of Sudanese refugees from Chad in their return to Kabkabiya, Saraf Omra and Karnoi.
UNHCR said at the time that the Sudanese returnees were assisted with a reintegration package and transportation from the reception centre in Tina to their home villages in North Darfur.
This first return follows the signing of a tripartite agreement in May 2017 by the governments of Sudan and Chad and UNHCR for the voluntary repatriation of 20,000 Sudanese refugees from Chad this year.
In a written response to Radio Dabanga at the time, a spokesman replied that “under the agreement, the Goverment of Sudan has made assurances that refugees will have access to land and will return in conditions of safety and dignity. UNHCR is also given access to monitor the situation of returnees to ensure their treatment is in line with international humanitarian and human rights standards.”
Responding to the latest development, UNHCR stated today that the agency has been informed about a disagreement over land in the return area of Sabarna. UNHCR is in contact with the relevant Sudanese authorities at the state and federal level on this issue.
15 returnees attacked
Throughout 2018 Radio Dabanga has received reports of attacks on people leaving the camps for the displaced and returning to their home areas. In one of such an incident, fifteen people who returned from camps for displaced people to villages in East Darfur were attacked by armed groups on Sunday.
Witnesses said that the group of displaced people arrived in Sheikh Tabeldiya, Um Laota and Hillet Sabil in Assalaya locality in East Darfur, after their travel from El Neem camp in Ed Daein.
Mohamed Ali, a youth official in El Neem camp, told Radio Dabanga that the group of people decided to return after the governor of East Darfur had appealed to all displaced people to empty the camps and return to their home areas voluntarily.
“A group of new settlers, including camel riders, attacked the three villages overnight at about 1am on Sunday. They shot at people, which led to the injury of 15 people,” said Mohamed Ali.
He reported that among the wounded are 11 people from Um Laota, and one person from Hillet Sabil.
Three people sustained injuries during the attack on Sheikh Tabeldiya. All victims have been taken to the hospital in Ed Daein, where ten of them have already been discharged.
“Ishag Mohamed Abdallah, Ibrahim Abakar, Mundi Zayed, Saleh Ahmad Abakar and Nasreldin Mohamed Abdallah are still in the hospital,” according to Ali. “The victims reported the incident and now, state-led forces have moved to the area in response.”
Voluntary return is one of the options which the Sudanese government gives to the people in Darfur who have been displaced by the armed conflict that erupted in 2003. Khartoum plans to transform the camps into residential areas, or integrate them into existing towns.
The people in the camps point to the insecurity that is still plaguing villagers in most parts of Darfur, despite the large yet partly successful disarmament campaign ordered by the Sudanese presidency last year. They say that it is often caused by roaming militiamen and the abundance of weapons –that have not been found and collected during the government’s disarmament campaign last year– as well as the danger of running into armed new settlers in the home areas.