A report released by the UN shows that June has seen the displacement of over 80,000 people in the Darfur region of Sudan due to violence. This figure, the highest monthly total in 2022, represents the continuation of a trend showing an increasing number of people being displaced over the last few years, with 2021’s figure of 440,500 being around five times higher than the equivalent figure in 2020. This displacement has been driven chiefly by fighting in the Kulbus area of West Darfur, as Arab militias attacked villages belonging to the local tribe and around 125 were killed. This recent escalation in violence and disruption is yet another event in the continuing instability that has afflicted Sudan ever since the conflict first flared up in 2003.
Will Carter of the Norwegian Refugee Council illustrated the importance and frustration of reacting to this escalation, remarking to Al Jazeera that “before we finish responding to one emergency or major attack, another two have already happened,” and that “nothing is averting this from becoming a new large-scale displacement emergency.” Even so, the significance of this problem has yet to truly be imparted to the rest of the world, with Mohamed Osman of Human Rights Watch saying “it’s hard not to feel like the international community, which watched Darfur with eagle eyes for years, has completely abandoned these victims of ethnic cleansing,” while referring in particular to the decision by the United Nations to withdraw peacekeepers from the region this year.
After years of conflict, Darfur lacks the social, political, and economic infrastructure to break out of its cycle of violence. The Sudanese government, both in its current military guise and its former transitional government phase, has made little effort to address the underlying factors at play in the region. The most prominent of these, such as conflict over resources and a strong justice system, are problems that require serious attention that can only be effectively provided within the framework of governmental action. In this context, the decision by members of the international community to actively withdraw is an abdication of responsibility and will exacerbate the problems in Darfur. The United Nations should, at the very least, work to set up systems to allow for effective monitoring and reporting in the region, without which efforts by non-profits and local actors will be hampered. Along with this, the Sudanese government must work on resolving some of the fundamental issues plaguing the region.
The land and resource disputes underpinning the strife have frequently flared up into outright conflict over the years. This happened most notably in 2003 when the Sudanese government allegedly supported a group of Arab tribal militias as a response to a protest against the government by ethnic African farmers and other agriculturalists. That conflict saw 300,000 killed and over 2.5 million displaced. In Sudan more generally there has been political instability after a popular movement ousted long-serving President Omar al-Bashir in 2019, followed by political divisions and a military coup in 2021. This instability, combined with economic problems, has reduced the ability of the army to control regions further from the center of power, like Darfur. This power vacuum has been filled by various armed groups operating outside the law, which has prompted recurring violence. Up until this year, the UN has had a group of peacekeepers who were there to protect displaced Darfurians.
With such wide-ranging and systemic problems, the situation in Darfur is one that does not look set to be resolved soon. On the contrary, the new report by the UN, coupled with general apathy from the international community, is an indication that things are only getting worse. Achieving long-term stability in Darfur is only possible when stability is achieved in all of Sudan, allowing for a stronger central government with the ability to enforce its decisions and the rule of law across the whole country. As Sudan is rocked by political crisis after political crisis, with two major changes of government in the last three years, stability seems far away. For the displaced people of Darfur, far from the international limelight, future prospects grow dimmer and dimmer.
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