Khartoum: Bulldozers Raze Settlements of Sudan's Displaced
The most striking feature in Soba are the doors, standing alone, anchored and framed by chunks of clay and stone. These doors open to nowhere. They stand like ghostly sentries in a world full of rubble.
The bulldozers and construction graders managed to miss many of the doorways in mid-October, when the government spent two days destroying thousands of homes in the Soba squatter settlement on the outskirts of Khartoum. The government insists the destruction of the settlements is part of a large urban redevelopment project.
But the residents affected were people who already had been uprooted by the sundry wars Sudan has endured the past two decades. Of the 8 million people who live in Khartoum, 2 million are here only because they were driven away from somewhere else.
While the epic slaughter and mass displacement in the western Darfur region has drawn unprecedented global attention to the country, the almost unnoticed eradication of the Soba, El Salam, Mayo and Wad El Bashir refugee settlements outside Khartoum is a stark reminder that the capital of Africa’s largest country is also the principal magnet for people forced to flee their homes.
The International Rescue Committee is developing human rights and other programs aimed at protecting displaced people who are often lost in the crowd of such a sprawling urban area. The aim is to create grass-roots organizations that will evolve to exist without outside aid and form the foundation for a civil society.
The government has promised alternative housing to the estimated 40,000 households affected by the leveling of the squatter settlements, most of which have been occupied by people displaced by the decade-long civil war in southern Sudan. But the number of plots available is far lower than the number of homes demolished.
As a result, most people have instead built shelters made of cloth and wood right amid the debris of their homes. The effect is eerie; vast communities of crude, hastily built huts atop skeletal remains of what had evolved into carefully constructed dwellings.
The destruction has had an impact on the International Rescue Committee’s long-term development programs aimed at assisting what was once a relatively stable population of uprooted people. Economic development programs—teaching women how to can and pickle foods that they can then market and sell, for example—may be interrupted by efforts to rebuild water and sanitation services.
In fact, at least 10 Sudanese IRC workers themselves had their homes destroyed. Among them was Agnes Venunsto, a project manager from south Sudan whose family had to throw up a quick shelter on Oct. 12 after their home was razed.
It could be worse, she said stoically.
“The people next door just arrived from Darfur,” she said. “They came just in time to see this settlement destroyed.”