Cablegate: Idps Face Challenges On Issue of Return

DE RUEHKH #0704/01 1281326
P 071326Z MAY 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The issue of whether to remain in camps or return
to their homelands is one that internally displaced persons (IDPs)
continue to struggle with as the conflict in Darfur stretches into
its fifth year. Fresh displacements highlight the dangers of
returning too soon, however even humanitarian workers agree that
some areas are secure enough for families to move back. In a recent
series of meetings, international and local NGOs discussed
conditions for returns and concerns for the future. END SUMMARY.

Discussion of Returns Tapers

2. (SBU) Wariara Mbugua, Chief of UNAMID Civil Affairs, told
fieldoff that while it used to arise on a daily basis, the issue of
returns had slowly dropped from the public discourse. IOM
(International Organization for Migration) staff noted that
discussions in the camps had become highly politicized, although it
was unclear whether the growing divisions within IDP groups were
truly ideological or rather a result of pressure from umdas who were
bribed by the government to promote returns. With discussion at a
minimum, no one believed that returns were actually occurring,
despite a recent Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) press release
suggesting that 4000 IDPs were returning to their lands in North
Darfur (reftel).

--------------------------------------------- ---------
New Arrivals Highlight Dwindling Motivation to Return
--------------------------------------------- ---------

3. (SBU) The recent influx of an estimated 9500 IDPs to Zam Zam camp
outside El Fasher in North Darfur would appear to suggest that
conditions are not yet ripe for IDPs to consider returning to their
lands. However, OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs) suspects that at least some members of this
group, most of whom presented themselves at the camp with no rations
card (the most important document for a Darfuri IDP and proof of
prior food aid registration), are not exactly who they say they are.
However, unraveling their true identity and motives for lying may
be impossible. (Note: OCHA, IOM and WFP conduct verification
activities in an attempt to discourage migration of villagers to
camps for better services, and to avoid providing services to
voluntarily internally displaced Persons. End Note.)

4. (SBU) One theory is that they had heard that Zam Zam camp would
soon be expanding to fit another 10,000 people, and they arrived
early to ensure that they are given spaces. It is also possible
that the group became fed up after five years of insecurity and
destitution and finally left their villages. However, in this case
there is likely political agenda behind the movement, as OCHA
suspects that the group is from areas south and southwest of El
Fasher - areas exclusively controlled by SLA-Minni Minawi. As the
camp currently has no coordinator, they may be trying to benefit
from the current lack of oversight. "They all know the system by
now," OCHA Humanitarian Affairs Officer sighed.

5. (SBU) One further possibility, a bit more worrying, is that this
group decided to move because of a perceived economic boom in El
Fasher. The Zam Zam camp is 16 km from El Fasher, giving residents
access to the labor markets of the regional capital. The UNAMID
deployment has created significant demand for materials to make and
furnish housing, additional local staff (guards, drivers, etc.) and
food and other retail products. However, IDP camps, with their free
access to health care, education and food rations, were already
becoming institutionalized without the increasing attractions of the
"big city." One OCHA representative said that in 2005, he believed
that the IDPs would eventually return home. However in 2008, after
living through 3 more long years of conflict with no end in sight,
he is no longer confident in future returns. "Look at Abu Shouk
(another IDP camp in the immediate El Fasher vicinity)," he said,
"it's already like a suburb." With the younger generation spending
their formative years accustomed to the standards of living in the
IDP camps (generally higher than average villages, which lack water
and health services), traditions will begin to break down, he

6. (SBU) Osman Mansour of Sudanese NGO SUDO (Sudan Social
Development Organization) agreed, citing a growing divide in the
camps between tribal leaders and the youths. Youths are
increasingly adapting to "city life," becoming more educated, and
losing their connection to tribal roots. "You can see it in
workshops, when contentious issues arise. These kids look at their
elders, and their faces say 'who is this ignorant old man and why
should I care what he thinks?'" Mansour added that tribal leaders
had recently walked out of a workshop that had been organized to
promote dialogue between young and old, citing the youngsters'
disrespectful attitude.

KHARTOUM 00000704 002 OF 003

Minimum Security, Services Necessary

7. (SBU) Mansour, whose organization runs the Justice and Confidence
Center in Al Salam IDP camp in El Fasher, said that IDPs will only
return to their lands when they have security, and when they see
development taking place in their villages. 99% of NGOs and aid
organizations focus on IDP camps, Mansour claimed. No one is
focusing on the remaining communities, both rural and urban, and
some residents are now leaving their villages and cities for camps
that provide better services. "Whether you call it relief or
development," he said, "you have to help the host towns and rural
villages, as well as the camps."

8. (SBU) With each year, Mansour lamented, it became less and less
likely that returns would happen. "A lot of people are benefiting
from this conflict," he said, "and right now, nothing is more
valuable than the money they are making." When asked about the way
forward, Mansour believed that a powerful show of international
force, including the arrests of high ranking leaders known to have
committed crimes, together with a quiet amnesty and visible
development program geared at providing economic alternatives for
fighters would be "a good start." Rahm Talla Mahmoud, a respected
tribal elder and Chairman of the Darfur Peace and Reconciliation
Council (DPRC), agreed with this view. According to his experience,
largely centered on conflict mediation in IDP camps, returns will
not proceed until adequate security has been restored, services are
available in the villages and those who have committed crimes during
the conflict are brought to justice. This last demand is a refrain
that rebels and IDPs, especially Abdul Wahid Nur supporters,
frequently flog and which would certainly guarantee more war. In
settling the CPA that ended a much more destructive war, no one has
been brought to justice.

Concerns for the Future

9. (SBU) As IDP camps become increasingly institutionalized, and
local labor markets in nearby host cities begin to absorb more and
more IDPs into what the LA Times recently called the "war economy,"
the debate on if and when to return to homelands has been
significantly curtailed. Darfuris see a UNAMID force which cannot
even secure the city in which it is based, a ceasefire commission
which has stopped meeting due to the lack of a ceasefire, and
continued GOS aerial bombardment campaigns as signs that the
low-grade conflict will continue indefinitely. Faced with that
reality, it is tempting to cut one's losses, and ties with the past,
in order to focus on a potentially more prosperous future as a
result of "forced urbanization".

10. (SBU) In addition, the issue of land ownership is likely to
generate some degree of conflict amongst returning IDPs. Oxfam
representatives reported that the GOS had recently been offering
land to IDPs who agreed to return to villages. With few records,
many conflicting interpretations of the law, and no clear method for
resolution of land disputes, this practice has the potential to
cause clashes if or when the security situation ever improves enough
for large scale returns. When asked about its role in possible
return disputes, the Chairman of the North Darfur Land Commission
seemed genuinely baffled by the suggestion that an upsurge in IDP
returns could affect the work of his commission. He admitted that
the Land Commission had done no contingency planning for such an
event, believing that pre-war land ownership boundaries were well
known, and as such, there would be minimal conflicts.


11. (SBU) Even if a political solution to the current crisis in
Darfur were to be reached, there are questions about both the
international and local communities' abilities to support widespread
IDP returns. While some international humanitarian organizations do
work in villages to rehabilitate basic services, the majority spend
the bulk of their resources on the camps, providing immediate,
rather than sustainable, relief. This is both understandable and
necessary in the current environment. However once the problem of
security has been resolved, there will still be significant
challenges to provide quality services and economic opportunities in
the villages that rival those to which IDPs have become accustomed
in the camps, and therefore community development and recovery
program planning must begin now. At the same time, such efforts must
not be manipulated by a GOS seeking to reinforce its bloody facts on
the ground created in 2003-2005 and beyond.

KHARTOUM 00000704 003 OF 003

12. (SBU) The security situation is clearly not yet conducive at
this time for widespread IDP returns. However, as we continue to
press for political progress on the peace process, we cannot forget
that social progress will also be necessary to reintegrate a
traumatized population whose lifestyles have radically changed
during years of conflict. If we are serious about ending the
suffering as quickly as possible once a political agreement has been
reached, organizations that have the flexibility to do so should be
encouraged to begin planning for longer term development projects in
addition to their immediate relief efforts.


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