Reporting from the crisis in Chad

Originally published
By Kerry Smith

As we make our way back to the capital, it is the story of Fadier Al Edep that sticks in my mind. She is one of the displaced women I was lucky to meet and speak to several times during my stay in Kou-Kou. Fadier, a mother of six children - two of whom are, fortunately, continuing their studies and staying with relatives in Khartoum - fled the recent attacks in Birao over one month ago and is now one amongst thousands in the camps of Habile.

In Birao life was stable for Fadier. Along with most women in the village - which is an important trading town - Fadier had her own fields to cultivate and she was able to buy goods to trade throughout the year. From the harvest Fadier and her husband were able to provide for their children and household, buying clothes, plates, cups, etc.

When Birao was attacked, she lost everything...She was only able to grab a few items and her children before she ran. She heard shots flying all around and at the edge of the village men in uniform with cars were waiting. They shot at the male villagers and took many of them away for execution, including Fadier's nephew and one of her cousins.

After walking for a long time, they approached a town with a refugee camp and a displaced persons site next door to one another. Before entering the town, Fadier, with a group of women, was stopped by a group of armed men who took all of the possessions they had salvaged.

Fadier has not heard from her husband since the attacks. That night he was staying with Fadier's co-wife who fled in the other direction. So far, Fadier has received news of her co-wife, but nothing of her husband - she now believes he is dead.

Since being settled in Habile, Fadier and her family (her brothers, sisters, in-laws and her mother who all built shelters near to one another) have received some food rations. However, in order to supplement these food rations, they look for firewood to sell in the market. In Birao, their village, women who were part of the camel herders brought firewood to the market; it was not the women of the village who went to collect this necessary resource.

In Birao, common life and trade existed between the many groups. Now, in the displaced persons camp, rumours abound: one person killed here, several people killed there, a rape, and goods stolen. All rumoured to be perpetrated by so-called 'Janjawid'. Now, nearly all Arabs are seen as Janjawid; increasing the fear in which the displaced persons live and increasing difficulties among different groups and communities.

Relations between different ethnic groups are severely strained. A settled Arab tribe told us that the military had asked them to bury the body of a man they did not know. They were asked to bury the body because they were Arab. They were not told how or why he was dead. Things like this fuel the suspicions among Arab groups that they are also being targeted.

In such circumstances, where a dangerous inter-community discourse of hate and revenge is growing, I wonder if Fadier will ever be able to return to the life that she knew, which offered her and her children opportunities for the future?