Western Sudan and Chad were hit by famine in 1984/5. Dar Masalit stands out as a ‘pocket’ of exceptionally severe and prolonged famine. This is related to the fact that the area hosted 120,000 Chadian refugees at the time. Comparative data show that population movements of comparable size in this area need not cause famine. There were two critical differences in this case. One factor was insecurity in Chad, which prevented the refugees returning home to plant in the rains of 1985. The second was the nature of the assistance programme. This was based on notions of ‘refugeehood’ that were inappropriate to western Sudan, which has its own conceptions of ‘refugeehood’ and a long history of dealing with refugees. The assistance programme restricted the mobility and hindered the integration of the refugee population, and thereby maintained them in an economically fragile area, contributing to the disaster.