Relief workers may battle chronic insecurity to deliver aid to the tens of thousands displaced by the Darfur war, but recipients in this southern Sudanese market trade handouts for luxuries.
Having scrambled for newly arrived aid, Darfuris taking refuge in the desolate Boro Medina camp in Western Bahr el-Ghazal state carry off the booty to barter for something tastier at the local trading post.
AdvertisementThere are no tarpaulins in the camp, home to 3,000 men, women and children from African tribes who fled the conflict in western Sudan, but many prefer to sleep under wattle-and-reed shelters and exchange the canvas for meat.
"What is the point of eating sorghum (a staple crop in relief packages) when you can sell and buy meat?" said a steely-eyed Miriam Taban, who fled the area around Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state.
Many say they were rich pastoralists before war evicted them from their villages. Others talk of seeing mass rape and family members killed by "men on horseback," the Khartoum-backed Janjaweed militia fighting ethnic rebels in a conflict that erupted in 2003.
"The problem with aid workers is that they rarely come here, and when they do, they bring the kind of food we do not like. That is why it ends up in the market," said Taban, sitting outside a simple hut.
"We might have lost everything, but not our traditions and eating habits."
One Western priest with decades of experience in Sudan said that selling aid is a habit entrenched in the culture of long-term camps for internally displaced people, which come to resemble "more or less a village."
"Much of the food and other supplies brought here end up in the market," he told AFP, refusing to give his name because of the insecurity facing aid workers in the remote and impoverished part of southern Sudan.
"Many Sudanese people have lived in camps for a long time. Remember that (many) people who fled Darfur in recent years originally escaped from the first war in the south," he explained referring to the 21-year civil war that ended in 2005.
"The politics of aid is difficult, either it does not get to the intended source of if it does, the needy misuse it. I have seen that in Sudan for a long time," recalled a South American church worker, also requesting anonymity.
At Boro Medina market, displaced people-turned-merchants barter their aid for roasted meat or perfume; and tarpaulins for Coke cans, mostly under sweltering reed shelters. One stall was stacked with sacks marked "USAID - NOT FOR SALE."
Local trader Mohammed Khalifa said business booms after aid deliveries, which end up augmenting local supplies.
"We do barter trade. They give us relief and we give them food like meat, eggs and Coca Cola," Khalifa told AFP on a recent trip to the outpost, not far from the borders with South Darfur and the Central African Republic.
"They sell because aid groups just bring aid without consulting refugees on what they really need," he said.
In the refugee camp, about five kilometres (three miles) from the market, men idle away their time, chatting about wartime experiences in Darfur while they wait for relief workers to arrive.
Their scalps wrapped in white turbans, the men sit under trees, sharing their hopes and fears. Children, visibly malnourished, play in the hot dust. Women on donkeys travel to fetch water.
"These people need both food and non-food supplies. They have suffered the brunt of war and it's up to the international community to help them," said Klaus Stieglitz, a human rights lawyer from German charity Sign of Hope.
"We just sit here waiting, nobody knows when relief comes. It just comes on trucks," said Mohammed Juma, who fled to Boro from Darfur in February 2006.
The Sudanese military said the area is too remote to monitor security and said there had been attacks from militia who roam nearby woodlands.
"That area is outside our area of operation... but we usually hear reports of violence," said army Lieutenant Colonel Babakir Mohammed.
One international aid worker said some Darfur refugees have guns and have established business in the camp.
"Those refugees are not the best. They are armed, maybe for protection or for attacks," said the worker.
In the camp, built out of a woodland clearing, an AFP reporter saw two fighters sat amid many AK-47 assault rifles. Refugees refused to talk about them, most of them citing fear.