IDPs in Sudan and their quest for survival

By Ilham Ibrahim

Sudan is perhaps the largest and one of the most diverse countries in Africa. It is a country with a vast natural resource base including deserts, mountain ranges, swamps and rain forests.

Unfortunately, the country has emerged from a 21-year civil war between the Muslim dominated north and the Animist and Christian south in which over 1.5 million people are said to have lost their lives and millions of others displaced.

While the Government and Southern opposition groups seemed closer to peace, fighting broke out in the western region of Darfur in the early 2003.

More than 1.5 million people fled their homes and tens of thousands of people have been killed.

However, the year 2005 saw a historic signing of a comprehensive peace deal between the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement, SPLM, and the Government, after two years of discussions.

ACORD, with its wide experience in working among internally displaced people and refugees in many war-torn African countries, is fully supportive of the efforts made by the African governments in creating a platform for peace.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR's statistics, Sudan hosts the highest number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the world.

In 1998, there were more than 6.8 million IDPs, almost a quarter of the total population. Such displacement disrupts family ties, cultural norms and living conditions, and exposes people to discrimination, and vulnerability. IDPs in Khartoum mostly lack basic education, training, skills and assets to compete for jobs.

The limited income sources and lack of better alternatives has pushed many displaced women to engage in illicit alcohol brewing and prostitution, activities considered by the government as illegal. These have increased women's vulnerability to violence by police as well as risks of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.

Commercial sex has mostly been fueled by poverty. Since these commercial sex workers, operate in a poor area, their services are so cheap. Average fees for one round is said to be about SD 200 (less than US $ 1). Some sex workers do not even have definite charges. In order to generate enough money that can cover their family needs, sex workers normally receive large number of clients per day, which increases the risk of infection.

Female sex workers interviewed say they pay very little attention on the probability of contracting HIV/AIDS as they have no option but to survive and feed our children.

"I have no time to think about diseases that might kill me after ten years, said one Female Sex Worker interviewed by ACORD.

ACORD Sudan started working with the female sex workers in El-Salaam displaced camp since the year 2002. The intervention was started with informal discussion with some female sex workers who have been encouraged to invite more FSWs for informal session to drink coffee, and continued gradually to provide a more preventive package, these include the basic information about STIs including HIV, supporting FSWs by transport to access VCTs, providing them with condoms and the provision of drugs to treat the different STIs.

The plan for the second half of 2005 include more activities that aim at widening the economic opportunities for female sex workers by giving them opportunities to access micro-finance and training services.