Page last updated at 01:14 GMT, Friday, 24 October 2008 02:14 UK

Trapped in Darfur refugee camp

By Amber Henshaw
BBC News, Fasher, Darfur

I first met 28-year-old Khaled Abdel Muti Ali a year ago in Abu Shouk camp on the outskirts of Fasher in North Darfur.

Abu Shouk camp, Darfur, 2007

Sitting around in a small mud hut in the huge, sandy settlement, he and a group of other Darfuris described the grim conditions there and answered questions from people around the world as part of a BBC laptop link-up.

I went back to see how their lives had changed, and they said the violence and insecurity had only got worse.

"Now when I look to the future it looks very dark," says Khaled.

"This life we are now living is not life. Ten people living in a house which is about 10 metres and we've been like this for five years.

"Nothing is better in Abu Shouk. Everything is getting worse, starting from security. Many NGOs [non-governmental organisations] have left the camp. We have no health service, we need food.

"The rations have been cut, now we have half-rations. So where are people supposed to get money to buy food or health or clothes for their children, or to pay for education?"

Last time I had taken a little blue taxi to the camp, and was able to wander around Abu Shouk uninterrupted.

This time I was forbidden from even entering.

Learning English

There was no explanation, but national security made it clear that Abu Shouk was a no-go area.

Security officers refused to sign any of the necessary permits allowing me to work in the camps or the town.

Luckily I was able to track down Khaled and Omda Salah Bakhoor - who was one of the camp's only leaders in 2007. I bumped into Hawa Abdullah Mohammed in a shop.

We agreed they would come to my guest house. They brought other residents from Abu Shouk and the neighbouring al-Salaam camp.

We can die today, we can die tomorrow, because the security is very bad
Khaled Abdel Muti Ali
Camp resident
Khaled graduated from Khartoum University in 2004 but moved back to Darfur to be with his parents and nine siblings. His father is from one of the Arab groups called the Rizeigat and his mother is from the black Africa Fur community.

They were forced to flee their village after an attack by the Janjaweed militia.

"I have been studying English this year," he says.

"I want to get a job with the UN. I have already sent applications but so far I have not heard anything."

Hawa has also learnt English since I saw her last.

She and her family fled their village near Tawila when there was a ground and air attack in 2003.

Hawa said many of the women who fled with her were attacked and raped on their way to Fasher.

She now has a job working as a language assistant with the joint peacekeeping mission's police, with a focus on rape and other gender issues.

Women buying weapons

Last year, people told me they were afraid to go to bed at night because they could hear gun shots and they feared attacks after dark.

Now they say that things have further deteriorated.

Each one of them told me more and more weapons were being smuggled into the camp. They said the government was to blame.

Women and children as young as 14 were being used to bring arms into Abu Shouk, residents said.

Map of Sudan
"Now the ladies have guns and they are also bringing these weapons into the camp," one of them told me. "They are also buying the weapons for the men."

He said the government wanted people to go back to their villages, so they made life in the camp as bad as possible to drive people out.

It is impossible to independently verify their claims about weapons.

The government often says the camps are used by rebel groups to stockpile weapons. But officials at Unamid said they had not heard these reports.

Unamid's head of civil affairs Wariara Mbugua said camp leaders were worried about arms beginning to enter the camp.

"They have indicated that the armed militia, as well as the movements and the presence of GOS (the Government of Sudan) with arms may be contributing to this."

Disaffected youth

It seems that Abu Shouk is now split in a way it was not a year ago.

An international source in Fasher, who did not want to be named, told me half the camp was now pro-government and half behind Abdel Wahid el-Nur - the leader of a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army currently in exile in Paris.

The source said the government was buying supporters with cash, and that they were the most powerful group in Abu Shouk.

Hawa works as a language assistant with the peacekeeping mission
Wariara Mbugua says the longer people live in camps for internally displaced people, the more dangerous the situation will become.

"There are very serious dangers, especially a very large disaffected youth who are totally hopeless. They became a very easy target for mobilisation for the militia and the [rebel] movements, meaning you really have a ground for continuing of the fuelling up of the conflict."

Most of the people I spoke to think they will be in the camps for the foreseeable future.

This time last year the UN and African Union-led peace talks failed to take off.

This year the government has launched its own peace plan - the Sudan People's Initiative - but few Darfuris are holding out much hope.

Khaled, Hawa and Salah are all trying to make the best of a bad situation, but they know they could live in Abu Shouk for the next 10 or 20 years.

Khaled says he cannot really think about the future.

"We can die today, we can die tomorrow, because the security is very bad," he says.

"We are not able to go back to our villages and we are not able to stay here safely, so we are not thinking about life now."

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