News Stories, 22 September 2008
MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, September 22 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency has recreated a burning Darfuri village at this year's British Labour Party Conference to highlight the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced people in the beleaguered Sudanese region and to call for international help.
The mock settlement, complete with dry ice smoke, is also being used by UNHCR and its partner, the Aegis Trust, to raise awareness about millions of other people forcibly displaced from their homes around the world. Hundreds of politicians and Labour Party supporters are expected to visit it during the five-day conference, which opened on Saturday in the city of Manchester.
"This is an excellent way to engage leaders of the ruling party in Britain," said UNHCR Senior External Affairs Officer Peter Kessler, adding that several Labour parliamentarians, including cabinet members, had stopped to talk to staff at the UNHCR exhibit.
Labour Party supporter Adhiambo Ashall was impressed by the burning village. "This is heartrending, it looks so real," she said, adding: "You cannot ignore it."
UNHCR and Aegis are calling for governments and parties to the Darfur conflict to ensure security for the uprooted civilians in western Sudan's Darfur region – most of whom are women and children – and for greater efforts to ensure that people can return to their homes in safety.
The violence erupted in 2003 and has since uprooted more than 2.5 million Darfuris and forced some 250,000 to flee into neighbouring Chad, where they live in 12 UNHCR-run camps.
Refugee Halima Bashir, a Darfuri doctor who was abducted and tortured after speaking out about rapes of pre-teen children by militiamen in Sudan, is attending the conference as part of the UNHCR/Aegis team. She will be talking about Darfur and helping to raise awareness about the problems faced by people forced to flee persecution and conflict.
"I wish every man, in every part of the world, would help the people of Darfur and protect them so they can live in peace, as they did before," said Dr. Bashir, who has written about her experiences and flight. "Darfur is not another planet. People should wake up and see that innocent people are dying," she added.
United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is chairing the annual conference, earlier this year offered to host peace talks between the Sudanese government and rebel groups.
UNHCR, which cares for more than 32 million people worldwide, is one of the few aid agencies on the ground in West Darfur. Across the frontier in eastern Chad, the agency coordinates partner charities in a massive assistance operation beset by challenges due to the vast distances and lack of security.
The Aegis Trust, a leading British non-governmental organization, campaigns to prevent genocide worldwide. It coordinates the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for genocide prevention. The group's Fund4Darfur supports survivors of the crisis both in the UK and in the region.