Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Sweaty Sleepiness in South Sudan

Many people had warned me about malaria in South Sudan. One UN guy has had it 5 times in as many months. Apparently it is a rite of passage that every khawaja, and undoubtedly every Sudanese, must go through. But, I never thought my body’s reaction would be so immediate. In fact, no sooner had I entered Southern Sudanese airspace, in the noisy little UN plane flying from Khartoum, than I felt the chills start to relentlessly shake through me. Luckily I had bagsied the enviable 5 seats at the back of plane, so the armrests went up, I spread out, and I lay there shivering hot and cold waves and feeling very sorry for myself. It was in fact not a bad bed, apart from the aggressive armrest which crashed down on my head (I still have a lump) but that was just a minor added annoyance.

So, on my first evening in South Sudan, I asked the driver to take me to the UN clinic. Unlike Darfur, there are UN peacekeeping soldiers stationed here. I was taken to one of the battalions, where I eventually found a doctor (who didn’t speak English) and who was absolutely no help at all. I asked him if he thought I had malaria, to which he looked blank. I then proceeded, in my dizzy state, to act out being a hungry buzzing mosquito, which bites me, me scratching myself, then feeling delirious and pale (which didn’t take much acting). Still met with blank stares from the doctor. He didn’t think he could treat me as I was NGO not UN. I had to come back in the morning and go to a different clinic. I stumbled back into the car and home again. The next morning another military doctor at another battalion confirmed that I had malaria, which bizarrely I must have contracted in dry old Darfur (most unusually unfortunate).

My Sudanese staff told me that the khawajas are ‘too scared of malaria’ and really it’s not that bad. It is true that I’ve had bouts of flu which have been worse than this. All I need to do is take the medicine and eat ‘too much fruit’. So indeed, I have been eating too much fruit all week, sleeping too much, and sweating too much. I don’t yet feel too much better, but I’m getting there. Let’s hope next week is a bit less superlative than this one, because this week, for many reasons, has all been a bit too much.

Evacuation or Relocation ?

In December 2006 a total of 430 humanitarian aid workers were relocated from 13 locations across Darfur, due to the deteriorating security situation. In some areas it was an emergency relocation, in other areas staff were relocated as a precautionary measure. In some locations, people were simply said to be going on holiday. Most of these people are back again now, and working as before, assessing the situation daily. Due to the increased levels of carjacking during December (29 vehicles in one month) many NGOs have now chosen to drive around incognito in little local taxis rather than taking their big conspicuous NGO cars and risk getting carjacked.

There is much confusion over the terms evacuation and relocation. Security experts will tell you the difference is as follows- relocation occurs within the same country, evacuation is to another country. In reality this makes very little difference. From Darfur relocating to Khartoum is pretty much the same as evacuating to Chad. The reasons behind the evacuation/relocation are probably identical, it just depends on which areas you want to avoid on your way out, and therefore whether you prefer to go east or west (and of course whether you are in a plane or in a convoy of cars).

The difference between a refugee and an internally displaced person is similar. The factors that force a person to leave his home are the same. But whether from Darfur he goes west and crosses the border into Chad (and therefore becomes a refugee according to international law), or travels to another location within Sudan (and becomes an IDP) his legal status and hence his legal rights, are very different.

Evacuation still sounds more serious than relocation, and the word refugee holds more clout (and legal recognition) than IDP. Essentially it’s one and the same, which is why many journalists choose to use the word refugee to describe internally displaced persons. However, the lack of gravity around the word IDP belies the reality of the situation; without the same level of legal protection refugees can theoretically claim, the problems facing an IDP are often worse than those facing a refugee. Perhaps we should think of a new term for IDPs, one that is commensurate with the lack of recognition internally displaced persons receive, both legally, and in the media.