Urgent funds needed for Darfur refugees, stresses Jolie

News Stories, 7 June 2004

© UNHCR/E.Parsons
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie helps refugees load their few belongings onto a truck near Tine, Chad, for transport to the safety of UNHCR camps away from the Chad-Sudan border region. These are the most recent refugees to make the treacherous journey across the scorching desert.

IRIBA, Chad, June 7 (UNHCR) UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie has stressed the urgency of funding more assistance for Sudanese refugees in Chad after seeing first-hand the dire situation in the border area.

Over the weekend, the Goodwill Ambassador visited eastern Chad's border sites and camps for refugees who had fled fighting in western Sudan's Darfur region. She heard stories of militia attacks and saw aid agencies rushing to provide the refugees with emergency assistance.

"UNHCR and its partners in eastern Chad are working closely together to assist the Sudanese refugees in Chad as best as they can, an uphill battle that they seem to be winning," said Jolie after a two-day mission that ended on Saturday. "But they are in a race against time before the rainy season comes."

"When the rains start to fall, the weak temporary structures in the makeshift shelters will be in danger of collapsing. There will be illnesses, especially among children, due to the sanitary situation breaking down," Jolie warned, adding that the rains will also render the roads impassable, making emergency transport, medical and food shipment close to impossible.

Travelling to the Chadian border town of Tine on Friday, Jolie spoke to some Sudanese refugees in makeshift shelters. "I fled the village with my children and walked several days before arriving here in Tine," said one woman, recalling how the Janjaweed militia stormed into her village four months ago, shooting at people, looting and burning all the houses.

In Tine, a major entry point for Darfur's refugees in recent months, the Goodwill Ambassador helped refugees, mainly women and children, to board UNHCR trucks. She distributed high-protein biscuits for their four-hour journey to the camp of Mille, where some 200 refugees were to be relocated that day. UNHCR organises convoys every other day from Tine to Mille camp.

Mille is one of eight inland camps where more than 81,000 refugees have been relocated to protect them against cross-border incursions by the Sudanese militia, and where they can receive regular assistance.

At Iridimi camp, two hours away from the border, Jolie joined a nutrition team from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention as they weighed and measured refugee children to check for possible malnourishment.

She then travelled to the nearby village of Iridimi, where a team from the Norwegian Church Aid briefed her on their water project and showed her the latest borehole they had dug to provide water for the refugees. The water is stored in bladders and trucked from the village to the camp. Currently, refugees in Iridimi get only 6 to 7 litres of water a day, far from the 15 litres they need per day. The new borehole should allow them to get closer to this minimum requirement.

The shortage of water in this arid region has posed a huge challenge in UNHCR and its partners' search for camp sites to relocate the refugees.

© UNHCR/E.Parsons
Jolie helps in the measuring and monitoring of children under five years old in a UNHCR refugee camp inside Chad. The measuring process is used to identify children suffering from malnutrition after their long flight from war-ravaged western Sudan.

On Saturday, Jolie visited a nutrition centre run by Médecins Sans Frontières-Belgique in the hospital at Iriba. Over 120 malnourished refugee children are being treated there. The Goodwill Ambassador also took part in a food distribution for 700 refugees who will be transported to Mille camp in the coming days.

Her mission ended with a visit to Touloum camp, 17 km from Iriba, which now hosts 17,000 refugees. Concluding the trip, she emphasised the urgent need for UNHCR and its partners to get additional funding in order to continue assisting the Sudanese refugees in Chad.

In all, there are an estimated 158,000 Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad.