Destruction in West Darfur town shocking, reports UN refugee agency

Destruction in West Darfur town shocking, reports UN refugee agency

Children at the International Rescue Committee kindergarden in Hamadiya IDPs camp, Zalingei, West Darfur
United Nations refugee agency staff participating in a joint assessment of the West Darfur town of Sirba, which came under air and ground attack from the Sudanese Government and allied militia groups earlier this month, say they were shocked at the level of destruction they witnessed.

A joint UN humanitarian mission involving the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as well as the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Ameerah Haq, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, visited Sirba yesterday, as some locals drift back to the town in the wake of the deadly attack on 8 February.

For now, the UN can provide humanitarian assistance, “but the clear message obviously is that what the people really want is protection. They are looking for security,” Ms. Haq said. “The ability to provide that - whether from the government or the international community – is still a long way away.”

Women and girls face being raped when gathering firewood in the Wadi, and the Humanitarian Coordinator appealed to both the international community and Khartoum to recognize the need for the speedy deployment of the joint UN-AU hybrid peacekeeping mission, known as UNAMID.

“If UNAMID continues to lack the full capacity required for it to fulfill its mandate, the people will continue to be vulnerable and exposed to the types of attacks that happened here in Sirba, with houses being burnt down, children disappearing, girls being raped,” she noted. “This will continue and the story will repeat itself. Village after village the destruction will spread.”

The residents who stayed or returned pleaded with the assessment mission for help in securing their town and nearby villages from further attacks, UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters today in Geneva.

The residents also warned that fleeing across the nearby Chadian border was dangerous because of the continuing conflict in the area and the widespread banditry, and they voiced concern about their compatriots who have been living in eastern Chad since the attacks on Sirba and on the villages of Sileah and Abu Suruj.

UN agencies have been distributing emergency items such as food and shelter material since the attacks, while the Sudanese Government has also provided tents.

More than 200,000 people have been killed and over 2.2 million others displaced since 2003 because of fighting across Darfur, an arid region on Sudan's western flank, between Government forces, allied militia groups and rebels.

UNAMID has been dispatched to the region to try to quell the violence and humanitarian suffering, but the most recent UN report on its deployment found that the worsening security situation in West Darfur was undermining basic aid distribution efforts.

WFP has lost 28 of its trucks to thieves and bandits so far this year and 14 of its drivers remain missing as a result of the robberies and abductions.

The agency issued an urgent appeal to all parties to improve security and road conditions so that its capacity to feed up to 3.2 million Darfurians with emergency food aid is not restricted.