Students camp out for Darfur

Refugees' world - Enters campus life

Staff WriterApril 6, 2006 

The genocide and refugee camps in Darfur don't feel far away for some UNC-Chapel Hill students.

More than a dozen students set up a mock refugee camp on campus Wednesday to raise awareness about the crisis in the western Sudan. And they're going to camp out there all night for two nights in a row.

The Africans in Darfur are his brothers and sisters, said Hudson Vaughan, and he couldn't turn a blind eye on them any longer.

So, the 20-year-old sophomore joined UNC-CH student group Students United for Darfur Awareness Now, a branch of the national human rights organization Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, to do something about it.

The students pitched tents on a patch of grass between the journalism building and the registrar's office. They cut up rusty chicken wire and tore apart thick, bulky cardboard boxes to help make their tents look more dilapidated.

Ashley Kroetsch, a sophomore from Elizabeth City, said the mock refugee camps drive home "the insecurity that even the survivors [of the genocide] are feeling."

"Students here can say, 'Wow, I have access to education, I have a bed, I have a ceiling, food,' " she said. "We want to show them what people over there are actually going through."

In 2003, the Sudanese government-supported Arab militia began to kill non-Arab civilians and destroy villages in response to rebels rising up against the mostly Arab leaders.

The non-Arabs in Darfur who were able to escape filled refugee camps. But the conditions there are poor, with many using straw for walls and cloth for roofs.

Even though the tents at UNC-CH's camp probably came from some retail store, Kroetsch thinks people will get it.

"It's impossible to replicate those conditions in Western civilization," she said. "I think the symbolism should be strong enough for them to understand."

Vaughan said he supports the Darfur cause because he was surprised by how little attention people are giving it.

"When we start to devalue human life, it soon becomes that we're the sole authors of our life," he said. "We're interconnected. We can't just disconnect ourselves."

Staff writer Meiling Arounnarath can be reached at 932-2004 or meiling.arounnarath @newsobserver.com.

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