Internal Relocation is not a Viable Option

by Fabian Tompsett, 9th October 2005 updated 2nd February 2006

Immigration Appeal Tribunals have suggested that internal relocation within Sudan is available for members of Darfur tribes, specifically in the Khartoum area. Unfortunately this is not the case and the evidence overwhelmingly shows that not only are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) subjected to harsh conditions, but also that they face breach of their Human Rights as outlined under Article 3 of 1951 Convention, in that their lives are at threat.

One issue which has been highlighted is the denial that members of tribes from Darfur can readily be identified as a specific ethnic group by other Sudanese people. This is directly contradicted by Alex de Waal of the Social Science Research Council and Global Equity Initiative at Harvard in his article ‘Who are the Darfurians?’:

Incorporation into a Sudanese polity did bring with it a clear element of racism, based on colour of skin, and facial characteristics. Although both the Sudanic and Islamic processes of identity formation could not avoid a racial tinge, it was with Egyptian dominance and the successor Sudanese state that this became dominant. The Egyptian or Mediterranean littoral 'moral geography' of Dar Fur can be charted as early as 1800, when the Arab trader Mohamed al Tunisi lived there: he graded the land and its inhabitants according to the colour of skin, the beauty of women, and their sexual mores. A broadly similar racist classification became evident in Egyptian occupation of the Nile Valley in the mid-19th century, and remains essentially unchanged today.1 (

Furthermore despite the report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur (delivered to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on January 25, 2005) the evidence is that Darfurians can be identified by their accents:

For example, the anthropological understanding informing the Report is particularly weak and facile. A Darfuri with an extensive UN human rights background offers this pointed critique of the Report, here edited very slightly for clarity (it should be emphasized that we hear far too little from such informed Darfuri voices in the 176 pages of the Report).

"In Paragraph 508 the Report states:

’The various tribes that have been the object of attacks and killings (chiefly the Fur, Massalit and Zaghawa tribes) do not appear to make up ethnic groups distinct from the ethnic group to which persons or militias that attack them belong.’ (Para. 508)

"I don’t think that any serious-minded person could issue such an ignorant statement. First, according to the most basic anthropology texts written by Sudanists and Sudanese, these tribes belong to ethnic groups different from the so-called Arab tribes of Darfur. Second, anyone who has spent a few days in Darfur would know that if you have a person’s name and the area he or she comes from, you can tell which tribe that person belongs to. Third, any Darfurian can tell whether another Darfurian comes from an Arab tribe or not. The degree of accuracy is almost 100%."

"Fourth, it is not true that all the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa speak Arabic. These three tribes have their own languages (volumes have been written about these languages by Sudanese and non-Sudanese scholars). The percentage of Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit who speak Arabic is the same as that of Southern Sudanese. It is only the urbanized members of these tribes who speak Arabic. Even among these, their accent tells which tribe they come from. Finally, Islam as espoused by these African tribes is highly Africanized and is very distinct from the Islam espoused by Arabized Sudanese." (received by this writer via email, February 3, 2005)

No doubt there are issues of controversy among anthropologists, linguists, and other academic students of Darfur. But these views of a highly-educated native Darfuri comport extremely well with numerous others reports coming to this writer over the past fifteen months. And it must be reiterated that Darfuri voices are deeply inadequately represented in this Report.2 (,)

Having shown that Darfurians can be identified both by their facial characteristics and by their accent, we can now look to see whether they have in fact been the subject of persecution, not only in Darfur itself, but also in the Khartoum area. The Rev. Mark Akec Cien of the Sudanese Council of Churches (an organization which has worked for many years in the refugee camp of Soba Aradi, just south of Khartoum) gave an account on 26th May 2005:

The police went in, there were about 6,000 of them,’ said the Rev. Mark Akec Cien of the SCC. ‘Many homes were destroyed and hundreds were arrested.'

‘Now as I speak to you it is getting very bad, it is raining very heavily. Since homes have been demolished, people are left just standing in the water.’

The Rev Mark said the residents were particularly upset since there are rumours the government plans to forcibly relocate them in Abuja, 40 kilometres south of Khartoum.

There are some two million southerners living around Khartoum in illegal settlements. The government has a long-standing policy of trying to resettle them. But the southerners claim the areas for resettlement often lack water and arable land. They have no legal rights to the land where they are living as they do not hold property titles.

Khartoum’s governor denied he was trying to resettle the southerners. He said the operation was targeted at criminal elements in the camps. SCC says the government troops were also looking for displaced people from Darfur as they suspect them of being agents of the Darfur rebel movements.3 (

This has further been corroborated by the Sudan Organisation Against Torture:

SOAT is also concerned about the grounds for arrest of some of the detainees. It is feared that some of the detainees may have been arrested solely on account of their social/ethnic background, or because they are members of the internally displaced population (IDP) in and around Khartoum.4 (,)

The situation in Sudan shows little sign of improving. As recently as September 29th 2005, 29 people were reported killed in a militia attack on the Aro Sharow Refugee camp in Northern Darfur5 ( There seems to be little prospect of any resolution of the conflict in the foreseeable future, judging by recent reports of the negotiations6 (,). The dangers of the situation have been addressed by U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres:

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres says, when he visited Darfur a month ago, things were looking better than they do now. When he was there, he says, there was a window of opportunity that the peace deal ending Sudan's long-lasting north-south civil war might have a positive impact on Darfur.

He says peace negotiations in the Nigerian capital of Abuja on resolving the Darfur conflict also seemed to be making progress. But, since then, he says, violence has been increasing in Darfur.

"And, if there is not a very strong commitment of the whole of the international community - the African Union, the United States, relevant partners in the area - there is a risk that the peace process derails," he said. "And, without a peace agreement, things on the ground will become out of control. Even with a peace agreement, there will be a huge task to bring security in the field, to bring reconciliation, to bring disarmament. It will be a huge task with a peace agreement. Without a peace agreement, it will be an extremely risky situation."

Not only will this have serious consequences for Darfur, but Mr. Guterres says the impact on the rest of Sudan could be terrible.

The high commissioner says he is very concerned about the protection of refugees and displaced people in conflict areas. He says he also is worried about asylum-seekers fleeing persecution, who are being denied entry to countries that are tightening their asylum rules.7 (

Additional note, 2nd February 2006

Four months later, the situation has continued to degenerate. The Aro Sharow attack is now no longer considered exceptional:

"Roughly 20,000 residents and up to 35,000 IDPs from Mershing have arrived in [the nearby town of] Menawashi," said Dawn Blalock, spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Sudan, on Wednesday.”8 (

There has been a flurry of diplomatic statements condemning the escalating violence, and resolutions calling for UN intervention. However,the situation is still far from safe for the displaced populations of Darfur:

"The human rights situation for Darfurians was made worse by the failure of the government to prevent and protect the internally displaced and villagers from being killed, assaulted, and raped by armed militias," (High Commissioner for Human Rights Report9 (

Indeed as one observer remarked:

“Even as Khartoum was signing an agreement by which it "volunteered" for review by African nations (for "government performance and transparency") (Reuters, January 22, 2006), the regime’s security forces were engaged in the arrest and detention of Sudanese and international human rights workers, as well as international journalists and diplomats. The extraordinary details of these actions by [National Islamic Front] security forces, as reported by Amnesty International, the Open Society Justice Initiative, and wires services, include: forcible photographing of those detained and arrested, the seizing of documents and laptops; confiscation of recording equipment; verbal abuse of those detained and searched, as well as physical assault.”10 (

All this underlines the fact that the Immigration Appeal Tribunal's suggestion about internal displacement being a viable option in Sudan is both false and dangerous and can lead to a failure to respect the Human Rights of Sudanese refugees seeking asylum.