A visit to camp Zamzam – Home of 120,000 displaced people in North Darfur

At the end of my visit to Ethiopia and Sudan – which was my first travel in my new function as EU High Representative to Africa – I travelled last weekend to North Darfur. I met with local authorities and visited camp Zamzam, which for more than a decade hosts Internally Displaced People (IDP). The visit to the camp was an intensive experience, both encouraging and sad, and nice and disturbing at the same time. 


The camp is located 15 km south of El Fasher town, the state capital of North Darfur. It was established in 2004 in response to the influx of displaced persons, who were fleeing the war in Darfur. The conflict, which broke out at the end of 2003 between rebel groups and the regime of al-Bashir, saw gruelling atrocities and ethnic cleansing with some 100,000s estimated deaths. 

Today still, more than 9 million people in Sudan are in need of humanitarian assistance and almost 2 million people remain displaced from their homes. In addition, the country itself hosts over 1 million refugees, who rely mostly on humanitarian aid for their survival. 


Remote video URL

Recently, developments have turned more positive. After the 2019 revolution and the toppling of the al-Bashir regime, a new civilian-led transitional government embarked on a democratic transition and an ambitious reform agenda, looking for new solutions to these grave problems. 

Since its establishment, camp Zamzam has turned into an urban-like setting, hosting many children and youth who have never lived outside of the camp. It is difficult to describe how the camp looks like, but these facts and figures might give you an idea:

  • The camp hosts more than 120,000 people (around 54,000 households), a vast majority of them women and children,
  • Almost half of the camp population are classified as food insecure and there are many malnourished children,
  • The leading causes of mortality are diarrheal diseases, respiratory infections and malaria,
  • There are almost 30 schools in the camp, with some 25,000 enrolled students,
  • Five fixed health clinics and three mobile clinics exist in the camp, with an average of 16,000 monthly consultations.

During my visit, I had the opportunity to meet aid workers and to engage with camp inhabitants and their leaders. It was encouraging to see first-hand how the helpers do their very best to improve the often dire situation of the inhabitants. It was sad to listen to detailed reports on what inhabitants lack in their daily lives and how they struggle. Yet, it was also inspiring to hear how aid workers and inhabitants work on a better future and how much optimism and also joy one encounters in these difficult settings – above all from the youngest inhabitants. 

The medical staff and aid workers showed me how they run a Primary Health Care Centre, providing health care services, vaccinations, and a wide array of medical treatments to the camp population free of charge. It is impressive to see the work that is done in this centre, run by the NGO Relief International, and supported by EU funding. 

In my discussions with camp inhabitants, I heard their demands for further support and also some complaints on the difficult conditions in the camps. They suffer from lack of food, water and drugs, gender-based violence and mismanagement. 

The visit and the debates reinforced my conviction that the European Union has to continue to stand in solidarity with the people affected by conflict and humanitarian crises in Darfur. For years, the EU has provided humanitarian aid to tackle the immense challenges that inhabitants face and to prevent a deterioration of the situation in camps across Darfur. The EU has allocated almost €550 million in humanitarian assistance in Sudan, largely destined for the Darfur states. During my visit, I could announce an additional €30 million in humanitarian funding. 

The European Union and its Member States remain committed to respond to the humanitarian needs in Sudan, and we will continue to work with UN partners (such as WFP, UNICEF), NGOs, and we will support the new government in their efforts to improve living conditions across the country.                                                                                                                 

And while the situation has improved in recent years, much more has to be done. There are many camps in Sudan similar to Zamzam, especially in Darfur. Humanitarian assistance is providing important support, but a longer-term approach is still lacking. The humanitarian crisis affecting Sudan requires concerted and coordinated efforts to address the root causes and establish durable solutions. 

As EU, we will work closely with the government, development and humanitarian partners to make concrete progress.

The transitional government of Sudan has already taken some important steps to remove restrictions on humanitarian actors and to create an enabling environment for aid workers. The EU strongly supports the new civilian-led government, amidst a fragile transition characterised by economic challenges. The consolidation of Sudan’s political transition and the success of political and economic reforms are a precondition for the country’s development and for finding a sustainable solution to the persistent humanitarian problems. 

See also

HR/VP box
HR/VP Josep Borrell cartoon

“A Window on the World” – by HR/VP Josep Borrell

Blog by Josep Borrell on his activities and European foreign policy. You can also find here interviews, op-eds, selected speeches and videos.