Darfur: UNHCR's director of International Protection cites gap between rhetoric and financial support
UNHCR's director of International Protection, Erika Feller, has just returned from a three-day visit to Sudan's Darfur region. She says that although there are signs of increased stability in some areas, the situation in Darfur continues to be marred by unpredictability, violence and threats to the security of the affected populations. Ms. Feller was in the Darfur to assess current efforts to improve the protection situation for some 700,000 people displaced in West Darfur.
The UNHCR delegation, which also included our operations director for the Sudan situation, Jean-Marie Fakhouri, travelled to several villages, camps and settlements to assess the situation of the displaced population. They also visited areas where small numbers of people have spontaneously returned to their homes.
The mission discussed with local authorities and humanitarian agencies the need to improve coordination and step up efforts to protect the already long-suffering displaced people from further violence and displacement. The situation for women venturing out of camps and villages to fetch firewood and water remains a particular concern. Disturbingly, rape incidents continue to occur, despite the attention given to this problem by all those involved in the ongoing support effort. One ray of hope here was the judgement a national court handed down two days ago revoking an adultery conviction for a raped woman and ordering her release from detention. Other serious protection problems - some of which are receiving considerably less attention - are also prevalent, including those affecting children. Feller said these very worrying problems may not be receiving sufficient focus because attention is centred on the sexual violence issue.
Although much lip service is being paid by all concerned to the importance of protection objectives, Feller said a lot more needs to be done. She told a group of aid agencies based in El Geneina that those involved in protection efforts must be given the resources they need to expand their presence and activities. Protection also has its costs. There is a gap here between the rhetoric and the financial support that protection activities tend to attract.
UNHCR has asked for $31.3 million for its Darfur operation, but so far has received only $3.9 million.
On a more positive note, the UNHCR mission found that there are "pockets" in Darfur where improved conditions have led to some limited, spontaneous return movements. UNHCR has identified several villages where displaced persons have already gone back to their homes with the aim to regain their former livelihoods. In selected locations, we are now cautiously engaging in small-scale self-sufficiency activities to support these people reestablish themselves. This requires a carefully balanced approach; providing support to those who need it, while ensuring that these activities do not create any false impressions about the prevailing security situation and encourage additional movements in a situation not considered conducive to returns.
The collaborative protection effort in Darfur is taking place against the backdrop of a complex situation which calls for a nuanced and carefully considered response. Issues relating to ethnic conflict are inter-connected with competition over scarce resources in an extremely fragile natural environment. Tensions are further exacerbated by broken lines of contact between local communities and disrupted conflict resolution mechanisms. Conflicting political agendas of states in the region and beyond add to the uncertainty with regards to the prospects for solutions to the conflict.
In this environment, reconciliation at all levels is a key element for any sustainable improvement in the protection situation. Furthermore, it is crucial that the natural resources in Darfur are preserved to avoid further displacement and conflict, both in the shorter and longer term. The continued joint effort by the Sudanese authorities and the international community to protect the Darfur population must be based on a thorough understanding of this dynamic.
UNHCR has three offices in Darfur - two in the West and one in the South. Seven more field offices are planned. We have more than 50 staff, most of them focusing on protection.