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Fatima and Saad

(Note: Names have been changed to protect identities.)

“My son comes to see me and says, ‘Mother, I see you have to give away our money to local landowners all the time. Why can’t we go back to our country and plant on our land instead of giving our money away’?”

Through the retelling of a conversation with her son, Fatima describes the challenges refugees face in camp Djabal, eastern Chad. She told us of the exploitation and unfairness they face when trying to rent land from Chadian locals to survive and feed their families.

She continues to tell her story:

“I answered to my son that we cannot go back to our country. ‘Why?’ he asked. Because there is war. ‘What kind of war?’ he asked. Killing people kind of war. ‘Who is killing who?’ he asked. The government is killing our people. ‘Why?’ he asked. I cannot answer that question. And I don’t want to think about this war, I tell him. These are the questions from my son. They bring me pain. I wish we could go back [to Darfur].”

Later on, I hear from a refugee named Saad. “I lived most of my life in Darfur. I am 85 years old now. I will not be able to go back. The situation in Darfur is still very bad; it’s even worse. Entire villages are gone. Only big towns remain, and those are dangerous, too.”

From four wives, Saad has 16 living children and nine who have passed. I asked Saad what he does to provide for his family. He responds, “Most of the year there is not much I can do in the camp, but during the summer rainy season I rent a very small plot of land from a local [Chadian] to grow sorghum, seeds, and peanuts. This is very difficult, so I tried to buy a small tractor but locals told me refugees weren’t allowed to use tractors—they said we have to use our hands.”

After 14 years, Darfuri refugees still struggle for equality and peace. With violence still occurring in Darfur, strategies and policies to encourage the refugees to integrate with the local population are ideal, hopeful, and in some contexts very successful. However, the key to integration is a welcoming environment—the open arms of the local community. Without peace in Darfur and without equality in Chad, how will Darfuri refugees attain a better and more dignified life?


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