New Arrivals Overwhelm West Darfur Camps


June 25, 2007

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    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mercy Corps reaches 150,000 Darfurians with clean water, youth activities, skills trainings and other relief services. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps is providing shelter materials and other relief items for a new wave of displaced Darfurians and other African refugees flooding into Um Dukhun, a Sudanese border town at the center of an increasingly unstable region.

Um Dukhun is unique among towns in Darfur; the residents there who've been displaced come not only from Sudan, but from neighboring Chad as well as nearby Central African Republic (CAR). Some recent arrivals are Sudanese who initially sought refuge from the Darfur conflict in Chad, but are now coming back across the border to escape fighting between rebels and government forces there.

Mercy Corps opened its Um Dukhun office last October in response to an increasing number of displaced people there. Our aid teams continue to help build latrines, provide drinking water, teach livelihood skills, and promote good-hygiene practices among roughly 14,000 people.

Toward the end of May, simultaneous fighting in eastern Chad as well as in Dafok, a Sudanese town on the CAR border, resulted in hundreds of new families arriving in Um Dukhun. Mercy Corps teams worked with other agencies and the local government authorities to rapidly erect a camp for an anticipated 650 families. Barely two weeks later, 1,034 families have arrived — and they're talking of even more who are still attempting the journey.

Mugur Dumitrache, the head of Mercy Corps' Um Dukhun office, has worked in Darfur since 2004. He is overwhelmed at the situation he sees now. "People keep pouring into the new camp," Dumitrache says. "Yesterday we received 134 families. The situation is becoming critical in terms of assistance capacity."

Mercy Corps has responded to the sudden influx of people by providing shelter and relief items — primarily soap, plastic sheeting and mosquito nets — to families who arrive with very little or nothing at all. Soap is vital to maintaining hygiene in the densely populated camps, while mosquito nets help to protect against malaria just as the rainy season begins. Our Water, Sanitation and Hygiene teams have doubled production of concrete slabs for latrines to keep up with rising need.