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Joint mission shocked by West Darfur destruction

Briefing notes

Joint mission shocked by West Darfur destruction

22 February 2008

A joint UN humanitarian mission yesterday (Thursday) visited the town of Sirba, one of the West Darfur locations that came under Sudanese government attack earlier this month. Residents of the town pleaded for help in securing their villages. They also told the mission that fleeing to neighbouring Chad was dangerous because of the ongoing conflict as well as banditry, and expressed concern about their compatriots who had fled across the border to eastern Chad three weeks ago.

The Sirba residents voiced their concerns to a joint UN humanitarian assessment mission that included the UN humanitarian coordinator for Sudan as well as the representatives of WFP, UNICEF and UNHCR.

UNHCR was shocked at the level of destruction in Sirba. The recent attacks also affected the nearby villages Silea and Abou Sourouj. Before the attack, the three villages had a total population of about 30,000, some of whom have now fled to the Birak area of eastern Chad.

The assessment mission noted that many villagers who had been internally displaced as a result of the February 8 air raids had returned to Sirba. Upon their return a few days after the violence, the UN provided villagers with emergency relief assistance, including food and shelter material, while the Sudanese government had also supplied tents.

In West Darfur, UNHCR is one of the few agencies providing assistance directly to rural communities as well as to camps for the internally displaced which are primarily located in and around towns. UNHCR's objective in delivering directly to communities is to enable people lacking basic services - but who are otherwise secure - to remain in their homes instead of crowding into already overburdened camps.

Prior to visiting Sirba, the UNHCR representative was in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur State, for the official opening of the UNHCR office there, as part of its scaling-up operations beyond West Darfur State.

In eastern Chad, meanwhile, a UNHCR and MSF-Suisse humanitarian convoy trying to reach the border from the Chadian town of Guéréda today had to turn back because of military activity on the other side of the border in Darfur.

In Cameroon, we have transported 2,400 Chadian refugees from Kousséri to Maltam 1 camp since last Saturday. Additional convoys are scheduled for the coming days and we expect some 15,000 people to move to Maltam from Madana transit site and from churches and schools in Kousséri. Refugees tell our team that they do not feel safe to go back to the Chadian capital, N'Djamena, at this point. They are among tens of thousands who fled unrest in N'Djamena earlier this month.