This is my ninth time flying to Paris. The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, shopping and fine dining. Nope. Paris is just a necessary stop on our way to the capital of Chad, N’Djamena, and–eventually–the refugee camps in the East, along the Chad-Sudan border. In Paris, I only get to see the airport, which is pretty nice, by the way.
Nine times to the camps! It’s hard to believe. I really thought that the first trip, back in 2005, was going to be my only trip. It wasn’t imaginable to me, as a beginning activist, that the people we met way back then would still be living in those same camps, as we get ready to move in to 2011.
In reading about the displaced from Darfur living in camps (somewhere in the 3 million range), both inside their country and in neighboring Chad, I often hear the words “stable,” “non-emergency,” and “livable.” Of course, the people writing those reports do not live in the camps. Their children do not live in the camps. They make a quick stop and then go back to their very livable homes.
Those reports, in many ways, are right. The camps that we visit on the Chad-Darfur border have been life-saving since they started opening in 2003. The challenge encountered by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) during those first months and years of the crisis were monumental, and the job they did was and is as close to miraculous as anything can get.
People in the hundreds of thousands poured in to the border area, to places that are the definition of remote. Think of the logistics of moving food and shelter, providing water and health care, and creating tent cities in the middle of the desert. Refugees have told us that they felt like in a dream, when they saw the tents and found out that someone cared about them.
The refugees are now about to begin their eighth year living in those camps. Generations of children are growing up not knowing their homes and not learning the skills that have allowed Darfuris to live in an area of the world that can be unforgiving and difficult. This kind of stability is not necessarily a good thing. To the parents of the children, it is an emergency situation and one they wish to get out of.
All I hear is that they are grateful for the care they receive in the camps, for the organizations and the people that work to keep them protected, for the world sending grain, sugar, and oil. They also say that they would go home immediately, if it was safe.
It is complex, but it is also simple. The camps have offered refuge to millions. Every person has a right and a longing for home.
Maybe someday I’ll get to see more than the airport in Paris. But, I go on these journeys, and then I get to go back to my very livable home.