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Q&A: Clooneys marry fame with reporting skills to spotlight Darfur

News Stories, 24 April 2009

© UNHCR/C.Harron
Nick Clooney.

WASHINGTON, DC, United States, April 24 (UNHCR) Veteran American journalist and broadcaster Nick Clooney is constantly on the move, speaking out and raising awareness about the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region, where conflict has left some 2.5 million people internally displaced and forced a further 250,000 to flee to neighbouring Chad. He has also worked with his award-winning actor son, George, to tell the world about the issue their 2006 journey to the Chad-Sudan border was documented in the short film, Journey to Darfur. Currently a journalist in residence at American University's School of Communication in Washington, Clooney sat down this week with UNHCR Public Information Intern Casey Harron and discussed his experience in Darfur, his activism and what the future holds. Excerpts from the interview:

What made you interested in Darfur?

I was on the phone with my son and he told me about a series of articles he was reading by the [New York Times] columnist Nicholas Kristof, who had been in Darfur. George talked about these horrendous stories that were not seeing the light of day, and we became more and more concerned that this was not getting enough attention. So we tried to think of a way to help. I am a pretty good reporter and George is very famous we felt that if we could add those two things together, we might be able to give it a higher profile.

How was the transition from journalist to advocate?

It was very difficult; awkward really. I certainly wasn't good at it at first. George was already on board to go much further than just reporting, and so was I, but only if we were able to verify what was happening. Only after gathering and reporting the facts did we begin to suggest that ... it might be appropriate to do something about it.

Tell us about your current work as an activist.

I have almost completed 200 speaking engagements that have focused on the crisis. I continue to host these talks at colleges, universities, town hall meetings, churches, synagogues and mosques across the US as well as in Canada.

And is your film, Journey to Darfur, still relevant?

The film itself is very brief and a primer on what is happening in Darfur. Unfortunately, even though it was finished two years ago, it is still up to date. I was hoping it would be outdated by now and that we would be better off, but we aren't.

Are there any particular stories that have stuck with you?

There is one about the people of Jaac, a small village [in southern Sudan]. When about a thousand people from Darfur fled to Jaac, the villagers were very welcoming despite the fact that the arrivals were Muslim and the hosts were Christian. The people of Jaac allowed them to use their borehole anytime during the night to get water it was a very generous thing to do. Fortunately, after we left, George and I were able to get them a borehole of their own.

What is the best way for people to get involved?

First, it has to matter to you. If I can't, or George can't, or someone else can't get into your head or into your heart, then it won't matter. But if we are able to engage you with these wonderful people, then what they need is your energy. They need you to do the things that you have been asked to do a hundred times and have never done.

You have to call your representatives and newspaper and you need to put this on the map. Not once, because if you call once they will just blow you off; but if you call a fifth time, now you're a pest. Public servants are not bad people.... They go to the squeaking wheel; whatever story is making the most noise is the story they are going to cover. It is never going to be priority one. But if you can move it from priority 20 to priority 10, think of how many lives you might save.

What's next?

I'll just keep talking as long as I'm breathing. And when I am finished breathing, you keep talking. One way or another we will get these folks home. You can't stop just because you have failed. It doesn't mean you have to stop, you have to keep going because failure doesn't mean forever.




UNHCR country pages

Crisis in the Central African Republic

Little has been reported about the humanitarian crisis in the northern part of the Central African Republic (CAR), where at least 295,000 people have been forced out of their homes since mid-2005. An estimated 197,000 are internally displaced, while 98,000 have fled to Chad, Cameroon or Sudan. They are the victims of fighting between rebel groups and government forces.

Many of the internally displaced live in the bush close to their villages. They build shelters from hay, grow vegetables and even start bush schools for their children. But access to clean water and health care remains a huge problem. Many children suffer from diarrhoea and malaria but their parents are too scared to take them to hospitals or clinics for treatment.

Cattle herders in northern CAR are menaced by the zaraguina, bandits who kidnap children for ransom. The villagers must sell off their livestock to pay.

Posted on 21 February 2008

Crisis in the Central African Republic

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

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