As the sun was setting, a three-year-old boy found a shiny object on the ground. It was a bullet shell, a reminder of the war that had forced him and his family to flee their home.
Not far from him, some women came out of their shelters made of colourful fabrics and wooden poles. A cheerful song was playing somewhere, but it did not match the mood of the people who had escaped from death and suffering in their homeland of Darfur, Sudan.
“They attacked us at night and killed anyone they saw,” said Zara Khan Umar, a refugee who now lives in Borota, a settlement in eastern Chad. “They targeted the men especially.”
She is one of more than 90,000 people who have crossed the border in recent weeks to seek safety from the violence that has erupted in Sudan. In mid-April, a power struggle between Sudan’s army chief, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the leader of a militia group called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, turned into a war. The fighting has affected many cities in Darfur, a region that has been plagued by conflict for decades.
The violence has also reignited old tensions between Arab and non-Arab communities, leading to brutal attacks on civilians by armed groups. Many witnesses and survivors said they saw houses being looted, hospitals being raided, and neighbourhoods being burned down in different parts of Darfur.
Because of a communications blackout imposed by the government, it is hard to verify what is happening in Darfur, but Al Jazeera spoke to several refugees at Borota who shared similar stories of horror and despair.
Most of the refugees here are women and children who ran away from Konga Haraza, a town that was abandoned by local authorities – some said they were soldiers; others said they were police – in early May. Without any protection, the town was invaded by Arab gunmen who killed many residents, mostly men, according to refugees and aid workers.
Some people from the Masalit ethnic group tried to defend themselves against the attackers, but they were outnumbered and outgunned, refugees said. They added that most men stayed behind to fight or protect their land.
But as the war continues, more refugees arrive at Borota from Konga Haraza, bringing news of their relatives who are still there. Last week, Umar learned that one of her five children was injured. “Is he alive or dead now? I don’t know,” she said with a grim expression.
Salma Hisen Hasan does not have to wonder anymore. She found out yesterday that her husband was shot dead in el-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state.
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” the 35-year-old said softly. “I kept looking for him on both sides of me,” she added, sitting in the dark inside her shelter, wearing a white veil.