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Targeting the Teachers of Darfur

Darfur residents and human rights investigators said there had long been a pattern of discrimination in the region's education system, as well as in employment and health care, with Arab Sudanese generally favored over their African countrymen. African tribal leaders have also been excluded from positions in the government and in civil society, they said.

"Africans have told me that if they were to call the police, no one would come if the accused were an Arab family," said Kelly D. Askin, a senior legal officer for the Open Society Justice Initiative, a group that is studying discrimination in the region. "If they were to try and send their child to school, an Arab family would get the slot first."

Newly arriving refugees from Darfur, western Sudan, watch as a huge sandstorm nears the Oure Cassoni refugee camp outside Bahai in northeastern Chad. (Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)

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Amnesty International released a report Aug. 9 that said scores of people had been arrested since June in various parts of Darfur for speaking about atrocities to visiting foreign journalists and officials, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and members of an African Union commission.

Sudanese security forces arrested 15 men from the Abu Shouk refugee camp after Powell visited on June 30, according to the Amnesty report. Many of those detained have been students, teachers and community leaders, investigators said.

Buthayna Mohamed Ahmed, a teacher and a member of the Sudanese Women's Union, a professional organization, was arrested July 29 and detained in Nyala, a city in Darfur, apparently because she had advocated peace and the disarmament of the Janjaweed militia, the report said. In January, 10 students were arrested and beaten after holding a symposium on Darfur, according to the report.

"If you are in position of respect and power and you challenge what the security says, you become a risk," said Benedicte Gogeriaux, a researcher for Amnesty International. "For students and teachers and others, if you are viewed as someone who speaks out, you can be arrested, beaten or even worse."

At Oure Cassoni, a sand-swept camp in Chad, just across the border from Sudan, about 135 teachers live among the 17,000 refugees. Many of them said their Arab friends and co-workers had urged them to leave Darfur months ago.

"There are many teachers here because the schools were destroyed by the government," Abdul Jabar, a camp leader, said at a community meeting. "All the teachers and educated people were wanted by the government of Sudan."

Tinjany and other teachers who arrived in February spoke with The Washington Post in an open field in the nearby town of Bahai. The 30 women, all with university degrees, had suddenly been reduced to begging for dates and sorghum, shreds of clothing and bowls of water from Chad's already desperately poor population.

Tinjany said she eventually found work hand-washing laundry and used the money she earned to open a school for 100 Sudanese students. But at the end of July, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, concerned that the coming rains would flood the camps, moved the refugees 17 miles northeast to a remote stretch of desert.

Hababa Saleh, 32, a primary school teacher, sat in Tinjany's tent recently with the other teachers, fiddling with a piece of straw. Hababa has four children, but she had to leave her 6-year-old daughter behind with an aunt when she fled the attacks in Darfur.

"I want to see my child," she said, folding her arms around her body and rocking gently. "We had such a good life. Sometimes I am sad. Sometimes I just feel angry."

Sitadour Ali, a preschool teacher with a round face, said she left her village when friends warned her about the rumors of attack.

"They told me to run," she said, looking down. "Sometimes I dream about my students. I dream of them every day."

Ali tries to be optimistic, she said, and has encouraged the teachers to open a school in the new camp. The teachers said they hoped that when the stream of arrivals to the camp slowed, the United Nations would help them start one.

"We would just need a few tents for schools, some papers and pens, a blackboard," Tinjany said.

They will teach math, science, reading and writing, she said -- and history. "The Sudanese children will want to know why they are living in Chad," Tinjany said.

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