Friday, January 30, 2009

Returing to a New Darfur

I recently landed in El Fasher after three weeks of vacation aboard the last flight to slip in to Darfur before a series of rebel movements and GoS bombing in the area shut down the airport.

Dropping my bags off at home, the ceiling fan and glasses were rattling from the nearby bombardment and I decided not to unpack quite yet. UNAMID still seems to have one foot in Darfur and one foot out - never quite deciding if they will run at the first instance of attack or stay throughout.

The Darfuris can sense this equivocation and the first question residents of one displaced persons camp asked me was why UNAMID had stropped patrolling since the bombing began. When I asked the police commander I was assured that the patrols were continuing from strategic vantage points within the town. Given the topography of El Fasher, I eventually learned this meant climbing trees and observing the camps with binoculars. Residents were needless to say not assured by this, but also not too worried. It appears the bombing was concentrated on JEM positions and there were few civilian casualties.

Most of the projects I was working on before I left are now largely irrelevant. The fast-pace of military and political change in Darfur often means a new start and new analysis every time you come back from leave.

In the office my boss assured me to continue planning activities as normal and that there would be no evacuation in the near future. But arriving home that night, I found my house mate (who works in supply chain) packing for Entebbe, Uganda where he would be coordinating the foreseen evacuation.

Most people blame this schizophrenic direction on the dual political commands received by the mission from its African Union and United Nations bosses (particularly in regards to support for or criticism of the ICC indictment). But I see a fundamental disagreement between the humanitarian side (political affaires, human rights, etc) and the administrative/logistic side of the mission. Humanitarians seem to operate under the assumption that the UN and its member states are willing to risk lives for the ideals of the Geneva conventions and civilian protection during war time.

It remains to be seen which direction one will win out…but the Mission’s upper management did collectively agree that if we do evacuate it will not in fact be called an evacuation (because that sounds too much like we are abandoning the people of Darfur) but rather a "relocation." 

No comments: