Some 13,000 houses destroyed in a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the outskirts of Khartoum, Sudan's capital; an eight-year-old girl raped night after night in a camp in the Darfur region; and a huge shortfall in funds – such were the images the United Nations refugee chief brought back today from a five-day visit to the war-ravaged region.
"Governments have an obligation to protect their citizens," Acting High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Wendy Chamberlin told a news briefing in Geneva. "I think that there are people who are not protected right now in Sudan."
She spoke of Omdurman es Salaam, a camp near Khartoum that houses 120,000 IDPs, many of them from southern Sudan where a peace accord in January ended two decades of war between Government and rebel forces.
"The conditions are very bad there, sometimes even worse than in Darfur, and certainly worse than in Chad," she added, referring to a separate ongoing conflict in Sudan's western region where more than 1.8 million people have been displaced internally and 200,000 more have fled across the border into Chad.
"What really disturbed us is that 13,000 houses have recently been destroyed there, affecting 17,000 families," she said. Last week while in Sudan she noted that the Government had evicted 30,000 southerners who had lived in Shikan until the end of December, dumping them in a desert area.
Of her visit to Darfur, where a conflict that began two years ago, when rebels took up arms partly in protest at the distribution of economic resources two years ago, has been compounded by armed militia attacks on villages, Ms. Chamberlin told of an eight-year-old IDP girl in one camp near El Geneina.
"This girl had been repeatedly raped, night after night. We of course gave her immediate attention and cared for her," she said. "But we went beyond that. We also try to put in place protection processes so that other children will be protected as well. We have established a child-safe centre in this camp and if we have more funds, we have plans to build up similar structures in other camps."
She stressed that the IDPs, especially women, highly praised the role of African Union soldiers who escort them when they venture out of the camp to collect wood, as this is usually the time when women are attacked and raped by armed groups.
When she asked them what their three most important concerns were, they replied: "Security, security, security."
In neighbouring Chad, refugees in Touloum camp told the Acting High Commissioner their main concerns were food, water and literacy classes for women. "But security is not a concern for these populations, which is a positive thing," she said.
She stressed that UNHCR has a unique protective role to play, but it cannot fully meet its goals because "we are limited by funds.
"In Darfur, we asked for $30 million but only received $2 million for the moment. So we are still looking for $28 million to implement our protection role over there."
In Chad, the agency needs over $80 million but has only received $30 million. And for southern Sudan, which counts more than 4.5 million IDPs, the agency is asking for $61 million but has received less than $9 million.