Ten years in a camp for internally displaced persons in Sudan. Six years as a refugee in Jordan. Hajj, now 34 years old, has spent almost half his life away from the village where he grew up in Darfur, Sudan.
Aged just 14, Hajj describes how he had a vision that something very bad had happened while he was up farming in the mountains with his mum, dad ad two brothers. He says he immediately bolted and ran for two days straight to get back to their family home but when he reached the village, he saw a crowd gathered outside their house and his heart sank. Two of his uncles and eight of his neighbors had been killed by a rival tribe. They were all laid out in a small, four by four room, a sight he says he will never forget.
For Hajj and his family, this was the start of their displacement. Seeking safety in Abu-Shok camp for internally displaced persons in ElFaisha, they spent the next ten years reliant on support from international organizations.
“All my life I have lived with some relationship to the United Nations. Whether it was the UN peace keepers guarding the camp from an attack or the food we got from WFP, maybe it was inevitable that I would end up doing what I am now, through UNHCR.”
Hajj describes how safety and security was always a concern living in the camp in Sudan. Unlike the well-established refugee camps in Jordan, there was just plastic tents and very little infrastructure. Six years ago, he also became a target because of the tribe he was from and his eyes well up describing the circumstances in which he was forced to leave Sudan. “I don’t have any feeling in some of my fingers because of what they did to me.”
At that point, Hajj says he had two choices, to try and reach Europe though journeying across the Sahara or save all his money to try and pay for smuggles to get him to the nearest airport and subsequently get on a plan out of the country. Newly married and wanting to start a family, he chose the latter, and alongside his wife eventually made it to Jordan.
“I was the only one who was able to leave. My mum, dad, brothers and sisters are still living in the same camp.
Now with a three-year-old son and six-month daughter, Hajj says he now feels an added pressure to ensure that his children never have to see what he did.
“I joined Nuzha because I wanted to be a part of something to ease the tensions between Sudanese refugees and the Jordanian host community as sometimes, they just look at the color of our skin and treat us differently.”
Two years after he became a community volunteer, Hajj believes there has been some progress but that there is still a long way to go before acceptance. “I’ll always be grateful for the kindness people have shown me here, but I want to make sure that that is always the case for my children as they grow up.”