CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Mahamat Oumar Ismael, "Go back to Darfur? Not even in my dreams"
Mahamat Oumar Ismael is one of the 3,000 Darfur refugees in Sam Ouandja, northeastern CAR
SAM OUANDJA, 26 November 2008 (IRIN) - Mahamat Oumar Ismael is one of 3,000 Sudanese refugees who fled the conflict in Darfur and have lived since 2007 in camps near Sam Ouandja, in the northeast Central African Republic. Security, he told IRIN, is the absolute priority for his family and the other refugees in the camp.
"On 14 May 2007, we saw planes in the sky over Dafak [a town of 50,000 people in Darfur]. They bombed the town and we had to abandon everything and flee. We left on foot and the planes came after us and bombarded the road to make us move faster. They kept on doing that until we got to the border [with CAR, about 120km from Dafak].
"People went in all directions. I was with my two wives and our 13 children and we joined a group that headed for Sam Ouandja, because it's the nearest town [about 80km from the border].
"The local population received us very well. When they heard we were in the bush, they came out to find us. They brought us closer to the town and showed us a place were we could settle [the refugee camp where he now lives, 2km out of town]. They told us we could help ourselves to the mangoes from their trees, and they gave us clothes and cooking equipment. Then the NGOs arrived and began helping us.
“We were well settled in, but on 8 November at 3.20am, we were woken by shots. Armed men were attacking Sam Ouandja. There was a lot of shooting everywhere, even near the camp. The women were really scared, they took the children and they wanted to run. But the men told them that we had to wait for dawn, and we forced them to stay. I locked the door of the house, I made the children lie on the ground, and we waited.
“Around five in the morning, the FACA [government troops] and UFDR [former rebel fighters now allied with the government] began their counter-attack. The next day we found ammunition in the camp.
"We came [to the CAR] because of guns. We know their sound all too well, even the children. We came looking for security, because we didn't have it at home. But now we're afraid, we told the NGOs that if there is no security here we want to go farther away. Our bags are ready, and if it starts again, even if the house is full of food, we will leave.
“In the camp, I look after the school, because education is our future. In Darfur, the government didn't want us to have an education. Here, the children learn Arabic, French, a little English.
“But the security is not sufficient. There are not enough soldiers guarding the town, sometimes they drink and they shoot for no reason. When we go to get firewood or to work in the fields, they take money from us. We need UN peacekeepers to come in as reinforcements.
“Go back to Darfur? Not even in my dreams. I can't forget what I had there, my flock, which was stolen by the Janjaweed [pro-government militia], my garden with its mango trees, grapefruit. I will never forget that. But I will not go back there while there is no security."