Refugees in Chad Resist Return to Darfur

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Life in a camp for people displaced by civil war illustrates the grim situation in Sudan. Refugees across the border in Chad are afraid to return to their villages in Darfur. Aid groups are preparing for a long stay.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here are some numbers that give a sense of the scale of the crisis in Darfur in western Sudan. Nearly two million people have been displaced by the conflict. More than 200,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in Chad, and that's where we're going next. Conditions there are poor. Aid agencies worry that Chad cannot care for anymore people than have already taken shelter there. NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Chad visiting the Darfur refugee camps, not for the first time, and he joins us now.

Jason, you were first at these camps a year how. How have things changed?

JASON BEAUBIEN reporting:

Well, things have sort of stabilized in the camps. The aid agencies are really sort of running a well-oiled machine at this point. A year ago, there were a lot of people outside the camps. It was fairly chaotic. At this point, things are functioning and people aren't leaving and people aren't coming in.

INSKEEP: Hard to know if that's encouraging or discouraging that there's that sense of permanence now at what is supposed to be a temporary camp.

BEAUBIEN: Definitely. And the aid agencies themselves are gearing up for at least through the end of 2006, and there are no plans at this point to start repatriation. And inside the camps themselves, people are saying that they're afraid to go back and they feel that the Khartoum government attacked them, went to war against them, drove them out of the country. And they say they're not going to go back until there's a fundamental change in the government in Khartoum.

INSKEEP: How do people spend their day in these refugee camps?

BEAUBIEN: Actually, one of the biggest problem is that people are bored. They don't have much to do. The land around the refugee camps was already occupied by local Chadians, and so there isn't much land for people to actually start planting crops and doing what they did back in Darfur.

INSKEEP: Are there efforts under way to take care of people's state of mind as well as their physical needs?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah, some of the NGOs are doing projects to work with women and girls who were raped in Darfur and to try to help them heal from those psychological wounds, as well.

INSKEEP: What news, if any news, reaches you there about what's happening just across the border in Darfur?

BEAUBIEN: Not a lot of information comes across the border. There's a lot of talk about the death of John Garang, which was a huge disappointment to many of the people that I talked to in the camps. John Garang, after all, was the leader of the southern rebels. He had been just placed into the vice presidential role inside the Khartoum government, and then he died in a helicopter crash three weeks after that. And for the people here, John Garang was viewed as the one figure in Sudanese politics who could moderate Khartoum and who might be able to shift that government in a way that the people of Darfur could feel included in the overall country of Sudan.

INSKEEP: Jason Beaubien, you're within sight of Sudan there. You're one of many journalists trying to get across that border to get in at some point. What has the response been of the Sudanese government to journalists who want to get a look at conditions for themselves?

BEAUBIEN: The Sudanese government is very much limiting journalist access to Darfur. They've allowed a trickle of journalists in so that it doesn't appear that they are completely blocking journalists out of Darfur, but many, many journalists are not being allowed in. I'm one of them. And it makes it very difficult to sort of understand completely what's happening there and to portray the conditions of some two million people who've been displaced from their homes if you can't get in and get a look at it yourself.

INSKEEP: Well, NPR's Jason Beaubien, thanks for the information that you can get us.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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