Up to 2,000 refugees a day flood into Darfur's camps of despair

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The Independent Online

The humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur is worsening by the day, as dramatic increases in fighting and militia raids on villages force thousands of people to flee their homes.

Up to 2,000 refugees a day are now flooding into camps, many travelling hundreds of miles crushed together like livestock, piled one on top of the other, often with 300 people in a single truck.

Other refugees have made the journey on foot, walking for 20 days or more in searing heat in order to reach the camps. Many though, whether through ill health or militia attacks, did not survive. Aid workers in Darfur say several of the camps have taken in up to 12,000 refugees in the past two weeks, and say they expect a further 10,000 arrivals before the end of the month. Many are seriously malnourished, dehydrated or in critical need of medical assistance.

Non-governmental organisations are working tirelessly to cope with the sudden surge of refugees, but a lack of funding, complex internal bureaucracy and increased harassment from government officials is making their work all the more difficult.

Camp Otash on the outskirts of Nyala has had 10,000 new arrivals in the past 10 days, and although the camp was built for 25,000 to 30,000 people it now holds 50,000, a figure expected to rise to 60,000 by the end of October.

The people here look tired and beaten. Unfed and thirsty, many are sleeping without shelter in the dust. The camp is filled with women, children and the elderly as the men are either out fighting or have been killed. Many of the children have hair tinted orange, a sign of serious malnutrition.

The camp itself seems boundless, stretching well out of sight. Sizeable areas are covered with Unicef-tarpaulin clad shelters, the frames made from wood gathered from the fields around the camp. The children dress mostly in ragged robes, or clothes donated by charities hundreds of miles away from here. Only around half of them have anything on their feet.

UN reports say the fighting has now become "far more brutal towards civilians than previous attacks", with witnesses saying they saw women and children being thrown into burning houses. In Buram, a town 80 miles south of Nyala, five days of fighting between the Habbania and Falata tribes saw 500 people killed. An estimated 120,000 people have been forced to flee north in search of refuge.

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