Abandoned Darfur villages burned to terrorize refugees from returning – UN
The United Nations refugee agency today voiced alarm that abandoned villages in Sudan’s conflict-ravaged Darfur region are once again being burned as a message of terror to discourage people who once lived there from returning home.
“This gratuitous act is clearly a message to the former residents not to return home,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva of an agency visit last week to the village of Seraf, near Masteri, some 60 kilometres south of El Geneina, capital of West Darfur state.
“We are concerned because acts like this – on top of the displacement of some 2 million people from their homes – threaten to change the social and demographic structure of Darfur irrevocably,” she added.
Ibrahim, a resident of Seraf, took UNHCR staff for an on-site inspection of the village, which he said had been burned to the ground four days earlier by men he called Arabs or Janjaweed militias.
“They are telling us not to come back to our original village,” Ibrahim told agency staffers. “They want to push us to go to Chad, out of the country. They want to stay here instead of us.”
Some 200,000 Sudanese have fled across the border into Chad, beyond the more than more than 1.8 million displaced inside Darfur by the conflict, which began two years ago when rebels took up arms partly in protest at the distribution of economic resources but has since been compounded by Janjaweed and other armed attacks on villages.
“It is a dramatic way of making the point they (the original inhabitants) are not welcome here,” said a UNHCR staffer, who accompanied Ibrahim. Last year during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month from October to November, some 55 abandoned villages were burned around Masteri, an agglomeration of nearly 100 villages.
Actions like these also demonstrate the value of UNHCR’s mobile protection teams, which have conducted more than 100 missions within West Darfur to find and arrange protection for the most vulnerable people, especially women who have been raped, Ms. Pagonis said.
“We are working to improve life for those who do choose to go home to selected areas, although we do not want to send the signal that it is now safe for all Darfuris to return home,” she added. Some 20,000 people have already taken the brave step of going back to their villages from Chad and from larger towns in Darfur.
On a more positive note, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that thanks to a rapid donor response, it will not be forced to carry out expected ration cuts in May for close to 2 million people living in Darfur. Three weeks ago it had warned of impending ration cuts due to a lack of funds which remains a concern.
WFP had planned to halve the non-cereals part of the daily ration but the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Food for Peace has stepped in and redirected to Sudan some 14,000 tons of non-cereals already on the high seas.
"We are extremely appreciative of the urgent efforts made by the United States to prevent ration cuts at such a critical period," WFP Country Director Ramiro Lopes da Silva said. Even before this new donation, the United States contributed 60 per cent of the food and 50 per cent of cash towards WFP's emergency operation.
But the agency warned that despite this stop-gap measure, the overall emergency operation in Darfur still remains severely under-funded. Of the $467 million WFP needs, only $281 million has been received, leaving a 40 per cent shortfall. Adding to the difficulties is the recently increased estimate of people requiring food aid. WFP contingency planning projects a worst-case scenario of 3.5 million people in need during the leanest months of July and August, of which WFP will target 3.25 million.