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Refuggees in their own country, the forced relocation of squatters and displaced people from Khartoum


07 / 1993

The context

Since 1970 the Khartoum population has increased fivefold from 640,000 in 1970 to over 3.3 million in 1990. It is now forecasted to surpass the 5.5 million mark by the end of this century. 1.8 million of those residents live in unauthorized and squatter settlements, occupying 11,000 hectares of the urban area. of that area, 53% is land allocated for new housing schemes based on Site and Services plan.

By 1983, over half the population living in Karthoum was made up of migrants born outside the Greater Karthoum

In October 1985, the Council of Minister created an executive body, the Squatter Settlement Committee, to handle the problem of squatters and displaced. The Committee called for the immediate demolitions of unoccupied and incomplete buildings at some 20 sites earmarked for housing in the Karthoum’s housing plan. The first round of forced evictions of displaced persons took place un april 1987.

The distinction between squatters and displaced complies with the definitions established by the Squatter Settlement Committee:

(a) Squatters: those considered as « town dwellers » and who are usually integrated into the urban society; essentially those who arrived in the city before 1983.

(b) Displaced: those who arrived after 1983, and are classified as temporary residents in the city. Being denied construction rights - even mud being considered a semi-permanent material in this context - these residents are forced to resort to erecting their shelters from cardboard, sacks and pieces of plastic.

In 1992, the most reliable estimate compiled from several sources still came up with a figure of 520,000 displaced and 873,000 squatters in Greater Khartoum.

This approaches to the displaced problem is founded on ethnic discrimination: the squatters vs. displaced distinction also roughly divides migrants from westerm Sudan from those from southern Sudan.

Relocation process and Actors

In July 1987, the Council of Ministers established another Committee for resolving the issue of squatter settlements. This time, the Committee included Governors from the other Regions with a view to taking action aimed at stemming the flow of migrants to Khartoum and to help in the resettlement of those who were evicted from the city and returned to the rural regions.

The Ministry of Housing deals with the squatter situation through a number of approaches, defined as relocation, replanning or incorporation. During the first year of the programme, starting around April 1991, a sizeable number of the squatter and displaced sites were relocated. A similar number of sites were replanned, with affected settlers moved to other designated locations. Many of those whose houses were destroyed have abandoned their new « homes » in the relocation camps and returned to Khartoum to stay with friends and relatives in areas not affected by the demolitions. of the roughly 450,000 people whose homes have been destroyed, only about half are known to be in new sites.

Attitudes and positions of the different groups.

The Ministry of Housing gives the following justifications for the evictions:

- Some of the occupied sites are unsuitable for residential use and constitute a problem in themselves: they border the desert, are in proximity to sewage treatment plants or industrial areas, or are located in refuse disposal site, flood areas, etc.

- The squatters block the storm drainage system and obstruct the power transmissions lines

- Land traders and black market agents find an appropriate atmosphere to cheat poor people and sell for them lands that they do not own and make a lot of money illegally

- Squatters living in shanty town and slum areas commit all sorts of crimes and threaten the security of other citizens

- The living conditions prevailing in the squatter and displaced localities create an appropriate environment for most of the communicable diseases

- a sizeable number of the squatters are forced to lead a parasitic way of life and do marginal jobs which lead to idleness and low incomes

Western governm,ents and international organizations have a mixed record with respect to ther relocations. In general, there has been a persistent unwillingness to take action to try to halt the relocations, except for occasional cases in which Western governments have publicly censured the Sudan Government. In January 1992, European Community nations sent a solicitude to the Sudan Government requesting that it cease the evictions, and in April the European Parliament also called for a halt to the relocations. The World Bank through the Khartoum representative stated that « the alternative policy of massive relocation is prohibitive because of the immense social and economic costs involved ».

Despite a recommendation of a UNDP consultant’s report that the migrants should be integrated into urban planning, and all relocations be done on a strictly voluntary basis, the UN has continued to toy with plans for a large-scale relocation.

Alternatives proposed

According to the local regulations, for a squatter to have the right to be offered an alternative to his original residence he must meet the following requirements:

be soudanese, support a family, reside in the settlement since before 1990, have employment, and have no other residence.

The Government has established two kinds of relocation sites: transit camps for thye displaced, and resettlement sites for squatters.

Squatters moving to the 3 sites (Jebel Aulia, Omdurman and Khartoum North) are to be given their plots in the new sites before demolition and be given ample time to pack their belongings. Each householder is allotted a permanent 200 m2 plot in return for a nominal fee. The householder will at the same time be given a sketch plan of a house for guidance and he is free to adopt it or not.

Palabras claves

hábitat, migración, planificación urbana

, Sudán, Khartoum


The Government has consistently referred to the squatters and the displaced as « illegally » residing on land belonging to others or designated for other purposes. This is highly misleading, as the unauthorized status of the settlement does not deprive the settlers of all rights. According to long-established Sudanese land tenure practice, the squatters have significant rights to a just legal settlement of their claims.


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