Despite some “pockets” of stability, displaced persons and returnees in the strife-racked Sudanese region of Darfur still face unpredictability, threats of violence, and under-funded protection services, according a field report of the United Nations refugee agency charged with protection of vulnerable persons.
At the same time, Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned the Security Council that grave humanitarian consequences, along with the breakdown of a long-awaited peace, could ensue in Sudan unless funding gaps expected to exceed $1 billion for the remainder of the year were quickly covered by donors.
“In Darfur, the significant progress we have made in addressing humanitarian needs is being jeopardized by inadequate funding,” Mr. Annan said in a letter to Council President Jean-Marc de La Sablière of France. “Unless we can continue expand our operations, conditions in IDP camps could deteriorate, and even more people in rural areas may be forced to abandon their homes in search of assistance.”
Among the concerns cited in the refugee-protection field report is that rape continues to occur, as reported by Erika Feller, Director of International Protection of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who has just returned from a three-day visit to assess efforts to improve security for some 700,000 people displaced West Darfur.
The situation for women venturing out of camps and villages to fetch firewood and water remains a particular concern, Ms. Feller said. In addition, child protection and other security concerns are not getting the attention they deserve because a lack of funding.
“Protection also has its costs,” said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond in Geneva. “There is a gap here between the rhetoric and the financial support that protection activities tend to attract.”
UNHCR has asked for $31.3 million for its Darfur operation, but so far has received only $3.9 million.
The UNHCR mission also found that there are pockets in Darfur where improved conditions have led to some limited, spontaneous return movements. UNHCR has identified several villages where displaced persons have already gone back to their homes with the aim to regain their former livelihoods.
“In selected locations, we are now cautiously engaging in small-scale self-sufficiency activities to support these people re-establish themselves,” Mr. Redmond said. He added that any such effort must be done with full consciousness of the interplay between ethnic conflict and the fragile natural environment, with its scarce resources.
In such an environment, reconciliation at all levels is a key element for any sustainable improvements in the protection situation, he said.