UN refugee agency to expand its operations in West Darfur
After reaching agreement with the Sudanese Government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will upgrade its presence in the western part of the war-torn Darfur region where about 700,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are living.
UNHCR António Guterres, currently touring Darfur, said yesterday that the UN and Khartoum had reached a deal and called on local authorities to play their part by boosting security in West Darfur state for the large IDP population and for humanitarian workers.
“We are counting on your commitment to improve the security situation in the IDP camps and their surroundings,” he said during a meeting with local authorities in El Geneina, the state capital.
UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) do not have access to much of Darfur’s IDPs because of the poor security, which leaves them vulnerable to ambushes and other attacks from militias, bandits and other groups.
After his meeting with local authorities, Mr. Guterres toured the nearby Krinding camp, which is home to some 31,000 IDPs, and spoke with some of its residents, including a delegation of 20 camp leaders.
“Our main concern is security,” said one of the leaders. “We cannot move. People get shot. Many women have been raped… The security situation is terrible and there is no one to complain to.”
Another leader pleaded for more help from UNHCR. “There is regular shooting in the camp. We don’t know who’s doing it and we can’t sleep because we’re afraid we will be killed.”
More than 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur since 2003 through fighting between Government forces, allied Janjaweed militias and rebel groups, and the number of displaced has swollen to over 2 million.
Mr. Guterres also visited a children’s centre in West Darfur yesterday and spoke with a group of displaced women who voiced concerns over security and the level of school fees.
Today he is scheduled to meet with some of the 25,000 refugees from neighbouring Chad who have sought shelter in West Darfur, before heading across Sudan on Thursday to Kassala state, where he will visit long-established camps for displaced Eritreans and Ethiopians.
UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Josette Sheeran is also in Sudan, arriving today for talks with Government officials and UN staff in Khartoum before travelling to Darfur and then the south of the country.
Sudan is home to the agency’s biggest operation in the world, with an estimated 5.5 million people expected to be fed this year in part by WFP.
In the south, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reported that more than 26,000 IDPs have been assisted in returning to their homes under a joint programme administered by the UN, the Sudanese Government of National Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan.
This programme follows the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement in early 2005 ending the long-running north-south civil war in Sudan, which had forced millions of southern Sudanese to flee their homes.