Oxfam Ambassador and renowned Kenyan sports athlete Tegla Loroupe says that the humanitarian crisis facing the people of Darfur is of a scale unlike any she has ever seen.
Ms. Loroupe recently returned from a trip to the Darfur region of Sudan with international humanitarian agency Oxfam, where she spent a day in Kalma camp just outside the town of Nyala in South Darfur. More than 90,000 people have taken refuge in Kalma, fleeing violence and attacks on their homes. Across Darfur there are more than 2 million people living in similar camps, and more than 4 million dependent on aid agencies for assistance, in what is one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises.
Ms Loroupe said that although the vast response by aid agencies has improved living conditions in the camp, people there are still deeply traumatized by the violence that they have suffered and continue to face. They have seen their villages burned, men and boys killed and women and girls attacked, by armed men on all the many different sides of the conflict. All of these groups bear responsibility for ending the suffering, and during current negotiations the priority must be for them to agree and adhere to an immediate ceasefire.
According to Ms Loroupe, "the camps are like prisons for those living in them. When women and girls move outside the camps to find firewood, they are in grave danger of being attacked by the militias which rampage through the region. The children in the camps know nothing of a normal life and they are likely to spend most of their formative years knowing nothing else but camp life."
“What I have heard and seen is nothing short of grave human injustice and failure to ensure that those who need protection have it. We cannot allow for respect and dignity to be discarded and ignored. What the people in the camps told me is that they need concrete action - not more words and threads of hope. We are a community, and together we should protect all of our people from violence, no matter where they live on our continent.”
Ms. Loroupe also heard from aid workers who are finding Darfur an increasingly difficult place to work amid daily attacks on humanitarian operations, including hijackings, robberies, and abductions. She heard from residents of Kalma that armed men frequently enter the camps at night to steal animals and intimidate civilians.
Oxfam staff in Kalma are providing more than 50,000 people in the camp with vital assistance such as clean water and sanitation. The heavy rainy season is now approaching and Ms. Loroupe visited Oxfam programmes that are helping to prevent the camp from being flooded.
Ms Loroupe, who is one of Kenya’s most renowned athletes, undertook the trip in the hope of putting pressure on Africa’s leaders to do more in response to the crisis. “Our continent’s leaders must do all they can to get the many different armed groups in Darfur to stop the violence and agree to an immediate ceasefire,” she said.
“The people of Darfur are all African - whether Fur, Masalit, Arab or any other tribe - and they are all suffering. It is African civilians who are being killed, African peacekeepers being shot and murdered, and many African aid workers who have come from across the continent to alleviate the suffering who are being targeted for attack.”
She also called for the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) to be strengthened immediately. AMIS is under-funded, under-strength and increasingly under fire, with ten African peacekeepers killed so far this year. “African countries need to provide more troops to protect the people of Darfur, and the rest of the world must ensure that these troops have the support that they need,” she said.