Cablegate: International Community Refutes Gos Idp Return Claims

DE RUEHKH #0705/01 1281327
P 071327Z MAY 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Recent local radio reports, based on a statement
attributed to the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) office in El
Fasher, stated that as many as 4000 internally displaced persons in
North Darfur were voluntarily returning to their villages.
Separately, the North Darfur HAC commissioner claimed that as many
as 61,000 IDPs may be returning throughout Darfur. International
Organizations and local NGOs working in and around Darfur IDP camps,
however, dismissed these claims as propaganda, noting that seasonal
agricultural movement is common, but rarely results in permanent
resettlement. In addition to the questionable veracity of such
claims, conditions are not appropriate for return, and newly
displaced persons continue to arrive at camps as violent attacks in
Darfur continue to rise. END SUMMARY.

HAC Claims Widespread IDP Returns

2. (SBU) According to field FSN, recent radio reports, which were
based on a statement issued by the Humanitarian Aid Commission
(HAC), stated that 4000 IDPs were to return to their homes in North
Darfur. In an April 30 meeting, North Darfur HAC Commissioner
Ibrahim Ahmed Hamid claimed that returns of this nature "are not
news" and happen all the time, but specifically around this time of
year as people return to sow their fields. When asked whether these
returns were permanent, Hamid snapped, "People return according to
their interests, and I provide them with assistance. I don't ask
whether returns are final or sustainable - it is not the time. It
is only the time to help!" He claimed that his office was providing
resettlement assistance for these returnees, consisting of plastic
sheeting, tents, and some food staples, and pointed to their return
as proof that roads and villages were safe and secure.

3. (SBU) Responding directly to news reports, Hamid repeatedly gave
different answers as to the number of IDPs allegedly planning to
return home. At one point, he produced a report from the "field"
stating that 6422 individuals had already returned to Haskanita. He
then explained that he did not know total figures, he could only
account for those he had personally counted - 1127 families.
Finally he said that 61,000 individuals had returned to the Dar
Zaghawa area, a number he claimed had been given by the SLA/MM
humanitarian coordinator. Hamid could not come up with a final
estimate of returns, declaring "they are happening everywhere in

--------------------------------------------- -------
International Community Sees No Signs of Returns...
--------------------------------------------- -------

4. (SBU) OCHA Humanitarian Affairs Officer In North Darfur confirmed
that seasonal movements from IDP camps to the fields are common each
year before the planting season begins. These movements are
classified temporary returns, not permanent, and usually consist of
1-2 members of each family only. The motive for these movements is
two-fold - families hope that a good harvest will provide extra food
and earn extra income, but perhaps more importantly, OCHA Officer
explained, they sow their land in order to retain ownership claims.
The traditional land system in Darfur holds that land that goes
unplanted for three straight years is forfeited. More recently, a
Sudanese Land Act passed in the 1970s allows the GOS to seize any
unused land immediately. Anecdotal evidence collected by OCHA staff
suggests that both systems continue to be used, usually to the
benefit of the GOS. While IDPs recognize that their villages are
not safe for return, they also realize that they must sow the land
in order to keep it. Since they have to return either way, OCHA
Representative said, many declare themselves "returnees" in the
hopes of receiving GOS assistance, although they have no intention
of staying past crop harvest. (Note: Field Officers have also heard
reports that returnees are often not IDPs, rather pro-government
tribes allowed to occupy fertile lands. End Note)

5. (SBU) Additional movements that have been documented by OCHA have
involved IDPs from Chad crossing the border and making their way
into North Darfur. These movements should not be classified as
returns either, OCHA cautioned, as they are generally undertaken by
1-2 members of a family who return briefly to their village to
assess the situation, reporting back to the rest of the family in
the camp they previously left. SLA representatives in North Darfur
have confirmed this practice to OCHA, reporting that "returnees"
have not yet permanently resettled.

6. (SBU) International Organization for Migration (IOM)
representatives explained that when reports of returns are received,
there is an interagency committee, chaired jointly by IOM and OCHA,
which looks at cases and decides on the level of assistance to
provide. (Note: Much has been reported on the subject of what
organizations can determine voluntary return based on agreements

KHARTOUM 00000705 002 OF 002

with the GNU. End note.) They said the issue of returns has not
been raised recently in the camps, but confirmed that, in 2007,
nearly 8000 households had returned to their villages. Most were
Arab groups that returned to their lands near Kutum in North Darfur,
and needs assessments revealed few needs that had not already been
met. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which in
partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), is tasked with
conducting post-return reproductive health assessments, reported
that it has not even been called upon to conduct any such
assessments for any of these "new" households.

... But Sees Continued GOS Pressure...

7. (SBU) Oxfam representatives said that, from their work in and
around Kabkabiya and El Fasher, they were unaware of any IDPs
returning to their villages. However they did report an increase in
the amount of pressure and compensation that the GOS was leveraging
to influence returns, noting that in many camps the GOS had been
paying the sheikhs and umdas to encourage returns. Absent from
government attempts to entice returns was any progress on the
fundamental issues of safety and security, the most important issue
to IDPs. Oxfam reported it had engaged in contingency planning for
a drastic deterioration in conditions in Darfur and further
displacement, but had not considered nor planned for the possibility
of improvement in conditions or widespread returns. (Note: Other
Organizations have reportedly developed similar
contingency/emergency plans. End note)

... And Continued Displacement

9. (SBU) UNFPA reported in late 2007 an influx of new IDPs to the
already bursting Zam Zam IDP camp near El Fasher. These new
arrivals have reportedly settled in the Zam Zam IDP Camp, while
debate continues with the HAC on whether to expand the camp or
create a new IDP camp near El Fasher.

10. (SBU) OCHA reps confirmed that Zam Zam IDP camp (built with
services for 40,000 IDPs) is operating at maximum capacity, with the
almost 9500 people that arrived in the camp between September 2007
and March 2008 bringing the total estimated population to over
50,000. (Note: Zam Zam is the only camp in El Fasher to remain open
for new arrivals, both Al Salam and Abu Shouk have reached capacity
and are closed for new registrations. End Note) These new IDPs are
believed to be from the Sheiria region of South Darfur, and claim to
have fled violence that peaked in September and October 2007 with
attacks on Haskanita and Muhajariya. IOM reported that it is also
seeing an increase in movement of Zaghawa tribes from South to North

11. (SBU) COMMENT: GOS officials know that any current movement of
IDPs is seasonal and not permanent. Neither the international nor
local communities appear to take the HAC's annual declaration
seriously, despite the commissioner's repeated theatrical
performances in support of his cynical claims. Conditions are
clearly inadequate for the debate on returns to resume, as camps
scramble to accommodate new arrivals, and the issue will likely
remain tabled until there is progress on the political and security
fronts (including UNAMID deployment) but highlighting IDPs right to
voluntary returns in safety and dignity, their right to their
original land, and to compensation are all very much worth pushing
with the Sudanese regime.


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