Jolie laments children's plight in Darfur, calls for more security

News Stories, 27 October 2004

© UNHCR/R.Ek
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie with internally displaced children in Margasa village, West Darfur. Before clothes and food, they asked for security, said Jolie.

KHARTOUM, Sudan, Oct 27 (UNHCR) The need for security and access to displaced people's home villages were the key concerns raised by UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie as she ended a three-day visit to Sudan's strife-torn West Darfur province today.

The Goodwill Ambassador started her mission to West Darfur on Monday, visiting camps to see first-hand the situation of tens of thousands of internally displaced people. She returned to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to share her observations in a press conference on Wednesday.

Jolie recounted stories of village raids and rapes, including the gang rape last week of a 12-year-old girl and her mother. "These events are recent and horrifying. And they show that there is still instability," she lamented.

"I met with many children who have been trapped in the middle of this conflict. They were wearing clothes full of holes, that were falling off. They have no access to school or medical attention," she added. "But when asked what they need, before food and clothes, they said security first. The fact is no place is 100 percent safe."

Jolie noted that UNHCR's focus in West Darfur is to look at conditions in the villages and places of origin, and to assess the needs of the people and possibilities for returns. "Obviously returns are something this government would like to see happen. But from the sense I got from the people and from my observations during this visit, it is clearly not right now. When it is time for return, it is important that it be done in safety and dignity," she stressed.

While in the field, Jolie witnessed the close cooperation between UNHCR and other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations.

"I spent a lot of time with INTERSOS, and they are doing amazing work," she said. "I met with one of the officers working with the African Union. He helped me to understand the very unique collaboration that is the AU. Mainly it is Africa helping Africa and that is a great thing."

© UNHCR/R.Ek
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie talking to displaced young girls about the vulnerable situation of women and girls in Darfur near the women's centre in Ardamata camp.

She emphasised however, that much more needs to be done to support the UN and NGOs on the ground. "The main challenge is access to populations, infrastructure, security. UNHCR must have access to places of origin so they can do their work properly," she said. "Improving the situation in West Darfur and providing effective protection and assistance to internally displaced persons are only possible when agencies such as UNHCR are properly funded."

There are an estimated 1.6 million internally displaced persons in the three provinces of the Darfur region. Another 200,000 have fled to neighbouring Chad, where most of them are hosted in 11 UNHCR camps, some of which Jolie visited in June this year.

UNHCR's current budget for eastern Chad and Darfur totals $115 million through the end of this year. The agency is re-assessing its needs in view of its expanded role in West Darfur.