April 11, 2008
Darfur Crisis
Watch the program: Part 1 | Part 2

I've covered hundreds of stories over the last 40 years to do with refugees around the world; but this was one of the most difficult to do because of the bureaucracy. It look me at least eight months to get the visa approval, and once I got it, the Sudanese Embassy in Paris was very helpful to me.

But that was just the start.

When I got to Khartoum, I had to get a travel permit, which took me another week through the bureaucracy.

As you'd imagine, Sudanese officials are extremely wary of letting foreign journalists into the country, as past stories haven't portrayed the Sudanese in the best light. I wanted to cover the story from a unique angle, about what's really going on in Darfur – how the aid agencies and governments are dealing with the unrest, not what caused it.

Having all the correct paperwork, accreditation and stamped documents didn't always get me past the many checkpoints that popped up throughout Darfur. Certainly, my accreditation as a journalist wasn't always helpful. At times, it was made clear to me that journalists were not welcome. And being one of the few white-skinned people in the region made me stand out in a crowd.

On one occasion I was stopped by a man who at first glance looked harmless, but threatened me with a rock if I didn't put my camera away. He clearly didn't want me filming in any of the refugee camps.

The situation was more or less under control until his shirt flew open and I saw a pistol tucked into his trousers.

Darfur has become a huge disaster and there seems little hope of a simple resolution.

Everywhere, there was evidence of low morale and a growing anger in Darfur. And what I saw was just a small part of a much bigger problem of social dysfunction and unease amongst the thousands of displaced people.

It's believed over half a million people are housed in hellish conditions in refugee camps and visiting these places was no easy task. If you didn't get stopped by the guards at the entrance, you were swamped by refugees. Women and children were putting their fingers in their mouths and then rubbing their stomachs – signalling they were hungry, desperate and frustrated. Some of these people have been in these camps for five years.

Huts are made from tree branches, discarded garbage bags and hessian cloth leftover from bags full of rice. Even the Secretary General in charge of the camps said that camps are the worst place to live in the world. People living besides each other and lack of toilets and basic necessities.

In 2003, the conflict flared in the impoverished region after a rebel group began attacking government targets, saying the region was being neglected by Khartoum. Some rebel groups allege the government was oppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs. The two main rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), have more or less split into several new groups, some along ethnic lines. Traditionally there were just fewer than 10 tribes, however now they've broken into around 40 fractioning groups.

What really struck me by the end of my trip was that the people of Darfur are extremely proud. They hold a lot of dignity and self respect.

There's nothing worse than a refugee camp and not knowing their future. I can't see any end to this disaster for many years to come. It's overwhelming, and unless the international community gets serious about Darfur – the situation will only deteriorate. It's too huge for the government of Sudan and the NGOs to solve it. Particularly with the suspicion of all concerns.

The reason I wanted to do this story for Dateline, is that we cannot ignore this huge humanitarian problem. The world is a very small place and it will eventually affect us as well unless we find a way to help these people. And by watching this program, I hope it makes us feel a little bit more humble about how fortunate we are in Australia.


-- From David Brill, assisted by Debs Majumdar
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World’s Untold Stories showcases courageous correspondents telling intimate stories of society's most vulnerable people. Often gritty, always powerful tales that open our eyes to a world that is at times disturbing and captivating. Storytelling that is raw and unyielding in its impact. World’s Untold Stories will bring the viewer tales from all corners of the world, and shine light on activities almost never exposed.

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