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UN relief official seeks to spotlight overlooked suffering in Eastern Europe

UN relief official seeks to spotlight overlooked suffering in Eastern Europe

Just back from a trip to Eastern Europe including stops in Chechnya and countries affected by the Chernobyl disaster, the top United Nations relief official today urged the world to pay attention to suffering in these often-overlooked areas.

"I went to both Chechnya and the Chernobyl area because these are two of the humanitarian crises which were in the centre of world attention some time back, and which now have become largely forgotten by the world community," Jan Egeland, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, told a press briefing in Geneva.

"The humanitarian consequences are still there, the suffering is still there, the humanitarian drama is still there - it is just that our political and social and media attention is gone," he added.

There are currently some 67,000 Chechen refugees in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia and another 200,000 internally displaced persons within the Russian republic of Chechnya. Mr. Egeland predicted that this year would be decisive for their fate and stressed that there must be no forced returns.

Given the unstable security situation in the area, he said it was unlikely that UN staff would return there permanently, but noted that day trips to help those in need would increase.

On the Chernobyl issue, Mr. Egeland said people in the affected areas felt that they had been forgotten by the world. He said he would urge contributors to think more about the social consequences of the world's worst technical disaster. "We want to challenge now international donors to give more to our community-based development projects," he said.