Photographs from the Bahai Refugee Camp
Border of Darfur, Sudan and Chad

Our first impression is one of devastation, as we gaze at scenes of scattered bodies in destroyed villages, fields and mass graves. While the international community debates whether to use the term genocide (which seems to depend on the number of people killed and the motivation of the killers), the Bahai refugee camp is all about those who survived the killings, the “lucky.” We might take some comfort in the fact that they have been spared, but what kind of a life are they living, what does the future hold for them?

These were my questions and impressions as I went there in September 2004 with my camera. Among the staggering facts we learn: 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur and 2.2 million are displaced internally and into Chad. Their new reality unfolds as one walks through the makeshift camps set up by the humanitarian aid agencies. The border area is a flat endless plain; sand and sky extend into infinity. Small tents augmented by scraps of plastic bags and cardboard boxes provide the only shelter from the burning sun. At the time of my visit, the Bahai camp accommodated 18,000 refugees, two thirds of which were women and children. Here, their life has turned into one of total dependency. Water is trucked from a well many miles away, which will soon dry out, we are told. Rations of flour, oil and beans are distributed intermittently. None of it can be consumed without wood for baking and cooking. Young girls wander out of the fenceless camp searching for branches of scarce desert bush. Absent their mothers and fathers, grandmothers and older children take care of the youngest.

Approaching individuals with my camera was surprisingly accepted. I soon realized that most of the refugees were in a state of shock—eerily passive, obviously overwhelmed by the horrific events that have robbed them of all they had. It is incomprehensible for the observer and probably to them as well how from here they might go forward to reconstruct a new life—to possess a home again, a community, to once again have the capacity for providing for themselves and their families. The improbability of their safe return to their land, villages and homes looms, and is perhaps just as overwhelming as the fate of those killed.

When nature strikes we spend a fair amount of energy on the survivors. When humans strike out at one another, we tend to focus on the dead and neglect the living.

-Michal Ronnen Safdie

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