In 2003, residents banded together to form the non-profit Darfur People's Association of New York (DPANY) to strengthen their sense of community and welcome and assist newcomers, while organizing humanitarian collection drives for clothing and school supplies for refugee camp occupants.
DPANY plays a strong advocacy role to end the genocide in Darfur and achieve lasting peace and stability in Sudan.
"We work with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Darfur coalition groups to alert the world of the ongoing atrocities and mass murder in Darfur," explained DPANY president, Bushara Dosa. "We regularly join protests at the Sudanese Mission and by the UN, and petition Security Council members, the U.S. government, and the world community, as well as local politicians, to intercede against the violence."
Because of the nature of the conflict - males are often killed while females, including girls, are targets of rape - many men who survive flee Sudan alone. One of the great delights of DPANY members is when men are re-united with their families. The frequent weekend weddings, held primarily in Coney Island, are highlights of the closely-knit community.
"We pay close attention to governmental, social, and legal services open to our community," Dosa explained of the group's social mission. "We strongly urge Darfuris here to educate themselves and train in various fields that can be used for rehabilitation after the war."
"As with other immigrants, right now we need housing assistance, jobs, English language instruction and, in some cases, psychological help for those still impacted by the horrors of the genocide," Dosa added. "It's one thing to hear about the genocide in Rwanda on the radio, but I never expected it to happen in Darfur."
For over five years, the number of Darfruis in refugee camps has grown to almost 300,000 residing in spartan living accommodations and limited amounts of potable water and firewood for cooking. Rahamah Deffalah, a DPANY founding member, described the camps.
"A lot of the occupants are children under 14 years old," he explained. "The U.N. high commissioner for refugees runs the camps and schools, while non-governmental organizations from Britain and Italy support the teachers and administrative staff. We donate items to fill any gap."
As part of their humanitarian mission for the refugee camps, DPANY raises funds and collects new and used lightweight clothing, especially for women, children, and babies, including flat shoes, T-shirts, and caps. Last year, DPANY filled three 40-foot shipping containers for sea transport to Chad. For classroom use, members filled 500 large laundry bags with chalk, pencils, pads, notebooks, and backpacks.
"Our fourth containers are in shipment to the camps in Chad," Deffalah said, "financed by donations from the community and friends in the borough. But, two of our storage areas are full now, and we still need more permanent storage space, like in a synagogue, church, basement, or empty office area. Also, these shipments cost about $20,000 each, so all contributions help."
As the conflict in Darfur - a region of Sudan about the size of France - enters its sixth year, conditions for civilians continue to deteriorate. According to the Save Darfur Coalition, 400,000 people have been killed, and up to 3 million Darfuris have fled their homes for camps throughout Darfur, or those in neighboring countries.
Currently, only an under-staffed and poorly equipped 10,000-man African Union-United Nations hybrid peacekeeping force (UNAMID) is in place. But without aircraft, and especially transport helicopters for swift response to crisis spots, the force's protective efficiency is adversely impacted. It takes two to three days by ground transport to cover the territory of Darfur.
Another hot button issue concerning Darfur is that of the no-fly zone.
"DPANY supports a no-fly zone being established over Darfur because currently that air space is being used for bombers and gun ships to attack civilian populations," said Hamza Ibrahim of DPANY's Foreign Affairs Committee.
Based on statements in the presidential debates and the policies laid out by both political parties, DPANY feels encouraged they will have a friend in the White House next January.
"Both candidates have spoken out strongly against the genocide in Darfur," noted Ibrahim.
Ibrahim urged citizens to keep informed of the continuing atrocities being committed in Darfur and to contact UN officials and their local and national representatives to strongly address the issue.
DPANY's website is www.darfurpeopleny.org.