UN refugee chief vows to spotlight ‘forgotten’ situation in eastern Sudan
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) pledged today to shine the spotlight on the “forgotten situation” in eastern Sudan, where the agency has been running camps since 1968 for displaced Eritreans and Ethiopians, but has attracted little international attention.
António Guterres concluded a four-day visit to Sudan by touring camps in Kassala state, one of two in the country’s east – the other is Gedaref – that currently host about 136,000 refugees.
That number, spread across 12 camps in the arid and harsh region, keeps rising as new arrivals from Eritrea appear every week, UNHCR said in a statement today.
Mr. Guterres visited the Wad Sherif and Kilo 26 camps and held talks in Kassala with local authorities and officials from UNHCR’s Sudanese Government counterpart, the Commissioner for Refugees.
Many of the people Mr. Guterres spoke to said eastern Sudan’s infrastructure and environment have been severely affected by the presence of the thousands of refugees from the two neighbouring States.
“We have a huge refugee population here to whom nobody is paying attention,” Mr. Guterres said. “These are forgotten people… Today, the whole world focuses on Darfur and South Sudan and nobody thinks of the refugees in the east. People also forgot that Sudan has been one of the most generous countries [for] hosting refugees for 40 years. Personally I believe this generosity is rooted in Islam.”
UNHCR is trying to transform its operations in eastern Sudan from care and maintenance programmes to projects that enhance the refugees’ self-reliance, especially given that voluntary repatriation is not an option in the short term.
Mr. Guterres voiced shock at the living conditions inside the camps, which lack adequate health care facilities and decent water supplies and often have bad sanitation or are marked by residents’ malnutrition.
The first UNHCR camp in the region opened in 1968, while Kilo 26 (currently home to 12,500 people) began in 1979 and Wad Sherif (33,370 refugees) in 1982.
UNHCR also has operations in the war-torn region of Darfur in western Sudan, where some 2 million locals have become internally displaced and 25,000 others from neighbouring Chad are living because of fighting in their own country.
In southern Sudan, UNHCR is assisting the return home of millions of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) following the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement in early 2005 ending the long-running civil war between north and south.
Yesterday, the UNHCR programme to voluntarily repatriate southern Sudanese from Ethiopia reached a milestone when the 20,000th returnee made the journey back to Upper Nile state.