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Oxfam Assisting Kalma Camp's Newest Residents

Contact: Amy Barry, +44 (0)1865 47231, +44 (0)798066439,; Sam Barratt, Head of Media, +44 (0)1865 472466, 07818 406050 cell,; both with Oxfam

DARFUR, Mar. 30 /Standard Newswire/ -- In Kalma camp in South Darfur, Oxfam is providing water to more than half of the 90,000 people sheltering there. In the last two months, more people have arrived – fleeing yet more violence and attacks on villages in the area. Most fled with just the clothes they were wearing and are now dependent on organisations like Oxfam for support. Oxfam's staff in Kalma are now providing them with latrines, clean water, blankets and shelter materials.


Photo: Oxfam Public Health Promotion (PHP) team Credit: Alun McDonald/Oxfam


It was during the holy month of Ramadan that Magda's village was attacked. Survivors say armed men rode in on camels and Toyota landcruisers, looted the houses and then burnt them to the ground. Magda's husband and eldest son were among the 48 people they say were shot or burnt to death. Dozens of others went missing.


Magda, 23, and her three other young children fled to the nearby village of Amaki Sara to stay with relatives and try and rebuild their life. Then, in January this year, fighting again erupted in the area between two local Arab tribes. More villages were burnt and several hundred people killed. The people of Amaki Sara decided to flee, fearing they too would be attacked.


"The area is not safe. Who can protect us? They can attack us whenever they want," says Adam Juma, one of the village Sheikhs.


Adam and the other Sheikhs helped bring the villagers to Kalma camp, currently home to 90,000 other people who have fled the violence in Darfur. They came on foot, a relatively short but dangerous walk of about 25 kilometres, with only the clothes on their backs. Bringing animals or cooking utensils would only increase their chances of being attacked by bandits on the journey.


"We arrived in Kalma with nothing," says Magda. "We had no food and no water. Just these," – she points to her tattered clothes – "and this," gesturing to the tiny tent cobbled together with straw and sticks behind her where Magda, her children, her sister-in-law and two nieces shelter each night. They sleep virtually on top of each other – to warm each other at night; to feel some semblance of safety after everything they have been through; and also because this small makeshift shelter is all they have.


Oxfam staff in Kalma are now working to ensure that Magda and the others receive support. Around 800 villagers from Amaki Sara are sheltering here in this one area on the edge of Kalma. A similar number have taken refuge in another part of the camp.


According to Adam, "There are more who hope to come. But although the journey is short, it is very dangerous."


"We are building latrines for them to use," says Abdelazim Ali, an Oxfam public health engineer in Kalma. "When new people arrive, sanitation is one of the biggest threats. Without proper latrines illness can quickly spread, especially when people are living in such basic conditions so close together."


"We are also distributing blankets and plastic sheeting to improve their shelters, and soap and jerry cans for carrying water," says Musa Dahab, Oxfam's manager in Kalma camp. Oxfam's team in Kalma is now made up entirely of Sudanese staff.


Others from elsewhere in South Darfur have also arrived at Kalma recently, as well as at other nearby camps. Many of the people have been displaced for the second or third time, as the violence has followed them wherever they fled. Nearly four years into the Darfur crisis, attacks on civilians continue unabated and tens of thousands of people continue to be forced from their homes every month.


But for many of the most recent arrivals, their long journey may not be over. Kalma camp, with its 90,000 residents, sprawls for several kilometres along the railway line that cuts through South Darfur – a crowded and chaotic maze of ramshackle shelters. It is already operating at capacity and, given the crowded conditions, the government wants to declare Kalma "full" and move any new arrivals to nearby, much smaller camps. To make matters more complicated, many of the new arrivals have settled on lands that are prone to flooding in the rainy season so will have to be moved.


Most prefer to stay in Kalma, overcrowded or not. "At least we know people here," says another of the Sheikhs from Amaki Sara. "We feel a bit safer in Kalma because we have strength in numbers. Some of the villages near ours already emptied and settled here. They don't have much, but what they do have they share. They share their food with us."


The uncertainty over their future is amplified by the absence of a coordinating aid agency in Kalma. Until November last year, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) filled this role, ensuring that humanitarian operations were effectively coordinated and all displaced people – including new arrivals – were most efficiently assisted and located. But NRC had to suspend its operations in Darfur, citing constant obstruction to its work. Their enforced absence has led to delays in finding many new arrivals a long-term site to shelter.


Meanwhile, all that the villagers of Amaki Sara can do is huddle together and wait.


* Some names in this story have been changed