Situation in Darfur seriously degenerating, says Guterres

News Stories, 25 October 2005

© UNHCR/H.Caux
A group of displaced women make their way to work in a brick factory in West Darfur, despite knowing that another woman was attacked in these fields only a few weeks earlier.

GENEVA, October 25 (UNHCR) The UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has said that the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan is once again deteriorating sharply, and warned that a further calamity could take place there very soon, which might have "a devastating impact" on neighbouring countries as well as on the situation in other parts of Sudan.

"What we are witnessing on the ground is a very serious degeneration of the situation," he told reporters and other guests at an event in London to mark the international launch of a DVD of the 'Voices for Darfur' concert. "... It is extremely nasty, with ugly events."

The security situation has deteriorated tremendously within the past six weeks, especially in West Darfur, with ambushes, hostage-taking and attacks on villages as well as on the Aro Sharow camp for displaced people that left 34 displaced people and local villagers dead. Aid workers increasingly are the focus of attacks. Humanitarian agencies say this is seriously hampering their capacity to operate on the ground.

Guterres, who visited Darfur two months ago, said at that time he was optimistic that, though not easy, peace would be possible in Darfur, and that if it came about it would have a beneficial impact on the rest of the country.

"You have three different crises at the moment," he said. "South Sudan, where peace was established based on the sharing of oil revenues; you have Darfur, and you have eastern Sudan, where the implications are also in relation to the neighbours and the problem between Eritrea and Ethiopia."

"Darfur ... in my opinion is the key for success or failure for Sudan as a whole," he said. "If there is success in Darfur, it will have a positive impact for coordinating a peace agreement in the south and for allowing peace to develop in the east."

But the reverse, he warned, would probably produce the opposite result: "If it gets worse in Darfur, it will deteriorate, and even in the south the agreement will be weakened."

He expressed deep concern about the possible adverse effect on other countries in the region, especially Chad, which already hosts more than 200,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur.

As a result of a number of recent security incidents, the UN decided on October 11 to relocate non-essential staff out of part of West Darfur as a precautionary measure. It is hoped that this is a temporary measure and work can resume in the near future. Much will depend on the extent to which the Sudanese government can guarantee security for displaced people and aid workers on its territory.

UNHCR has been present in West Darfur since June 2004, with offices in El Geneina, Zalinge, Mukjar and in Nyala (south Darfur). There are 40 international staff and 37 national staff working in those offices. Depending on the security situation, an additional five offices will be opened to enhance protection monitoring coverage and better assist the displaced people.

Guterres made his comment at an event to mark the launch off the DVD of a recent all-star charity concert on behalf of refugees from Darfur, and to thank the singers who took part.

One of them, Greek opera star Mario Frangoulis, told UNHCR staff at the agency's headquarter in Geneva on Monday that his own planned visit to Darfur had been cancelled because of the security situation. However, he insisted he wants to keep "the flame alive," and spread awareness of the problem in Darfur and UNHCR's work there. All the artists who took part in the concert, as well as those such as Sade, David Gray and Franz Ferdinand, who contributed exclusive material to the DVD, were fully engaged he said and wanted to do what they could to draw attention to the plight of the victims of the Darfur conflict.

Out of the $31 million required for UNHCR's activities in 2005, contributions of only $14.4 million have been so far received.




UNHCR country pages

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.


Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

Battling the Elements in Chad

More than 180,000 Sudanese refugees have fled violence in Sudan's Darfur region, crossing the border to the remote desert of eastern Chad.

It is one of the most inhospitable environments UNHCR has ever had to work in. Vast distances, extremely poor road conditions, scorching daytime temperatures, sandstorms, the scarcity of vegetation and firewood, and severe shortages of drinkable water have been major challenges since the beginning of the operation. Now, heavy seasonal rains are falling, cutting off the few usable roads, flooding areas where refugees had set up makeshift shelters, and delaying the delivery of relief supplies.

Despite the enormous environmental challenges, UNHCR has so far managed to establish nine camps and relocate the vast majority of the refugees who are willing to move from the volatile border.

Battling the Elements in Chad

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Ahead of South Sudan's landmark January 9, 2011 referendum on independence, tens of thousands of southern Sudanese in the North packed their belongings and made the long trek south. UNHCR set up way stations at key points along the route to provide food and shelter to the travellers during their arduous journey. Several reports of rapes and attacks on travellers reinforced the need for these reception centres, where women, children and people living with disabilities can spend the night. UNHCR has made contingency plans in the event of mass displacement after the vote, including the stockpiling of shelter and basic provisions for up to 50,000 people.

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Chad: Relocation from the Border to Refugee Camps

Since fighting broke out in Sudan's western region of Darfur last year, more than 110,000 Sudanese refugees have fled into Chad. They are scattered along a 600-km stretch of desert borderland under a scorching sun during the day and freezing temperatures during the night.

Access to these refugees in this inhospitable region is difficult. Staff of the UN refugee agency drive for days to locate them. Bombing in the border zone and cross-border raids by militia from Sudan put the refugees at risk and underscore the urgent need to move them to camps in the interior. In addition, the approach of the rainy season in May will make the sandy roads impassable. Aid workers are racing against time in an attempt bring emergency relief to these refugees.

Chad: Relocation from the Border to Refugee Camps

UNHCR: An Appeal for AfricaPlay video

UNHCR: An Appeal for Africa

The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, called for more attention and help for African nations dealing with new and old displacements.
Lebanon: UN Agency Chiefs Visit Bekaa RefugeesPlay video

Lebanon: UN Agency Chiefs Visit Bekaa Refugees

The heads of UNHCR and the UN Development Programme visited Syrian refugees and joint projects in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. High Commissioner António Guterres said that the Syria crisis had become the worst humanitarian tragedy of our times.
Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat campPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat camp

Concluding a visit to Iraq, UNHCR chief António Guterres met with Syrian refugees in Arbat camp in the Kurdistan region. Guterres noted the recent proliferation of humanitarian crises, but urged the international community not to forget about Syria, "the mega protracted crisis of our times."