Head of UNHCR governing body concludes visit to Chad, Darfur
EL GENEINA, Sudan, Feb 7 (UNHCR) - The Chairman of the UN refugee agency's Executive Committee, Ambassador Hernán Escudero Martínez from Ecuador, this weekend wrapped up a week-long trip to Chad and Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region, where he met refugees and displaced people uprooted by the nearly two-year-old conflict.
The trip is the first such field mission by Ambassador Escudero Martínez, who took up his duties as Chairman in October 2004. UNHCR's Executive Committee is made up of 66 countries who meet in Geneva annually to review and approve UNHCR's programmes and budget and provide advice to the agency. The Committee elects a new Chairman each year.
On the first leg of his trip, Ambassador Escudero Martínez visited Oure Cassoni refugee camp in the Bahai region of north-eastern Chad, which is now home to some 25,000 of the more than 200,000 Sudanese refugees who have fled across the border from Darfur. Refugee leaders told Ambassador Escudero Martínez that they feel safe in the camp and that they do not want to return to Sudan at this point because of the ongoing insecurity in Darfur.
Oure Cassoni is one of 11 refugee sites established in the arid region of eastern Chad since January 2004. As the northernmost of the camps, Oure Cassoni has the most extreme desert conditions. Despite the difficult environment, UNHCR together with non-governmental partners and other UN agencies have put in place shelters, services such as health clinics, and water and sanitation facilities for many tens of thousands of refugees.
"I'm very impressed with the organization of the camp and the strength of the refugees, especially after what these women, men and children have gone through and the violence they have witnessed in their country," said Escudero Martínez.
Refugee women in Oure Cassoni also stressed to Escudero Martínez how safe they feel in the camp. They noted that they regularly receive food and other assistance, and that clinics and community centres are in place and running smoothly. But they also want UNHCR and the other international agencies to focus more on education for their children in the camp.
One refugee woman, who spoke with Ambassador Escudero Martínez as she was preparing a meal outside her tent, explained that she tries to cook meals in the customary Sudanese way as often as possible so her children will not forget their traditions.
Ambassador Escudero Martínez started his trip in the Chadian capital of N'Djamena, where he reiterated the international community's continued support to Chad to address the needs of refugees. He also met with the Chadian Minister for Territorial Administration responsible for refugees, and expressed UNHCR's appreciation for the collaboration and good work done to help refugees in the past year.
In Abéché, the delegation met the Governor, who thanked the Chairman for the support of the international community and assured him that Chadians were committed to hosting the refugees until solutions are found for them.
On Wednesday, February 2, the Chairman continued his mission, heading across the border to El Geneina, the capital of Sudan's West Darfur state. After meeting with the Governor, the delegation visited the village of Kurti near El Geneina, where many people displaced by the conflict have sought refuge. At present, the displaced people in Kurti say they feel relatively safe, but they lack some services.
The delegation then visited Dorti camp, also in the vicinity of El Geneina, and toured one of several Women's Centres established by UNHCR, where women find peer support and engage in handicraft-making as a source of income. The women talked about security concerns and said that if they ventured out of the village to collect firewood for sale, they could be attacked. The displaced people in Dorti camp and their sheikhs, or traditional leaders, said that insecurity remains a problem.
In both Chad and Sudan, the Chairman also met with non-governmental organizations and other UN agencies.
The visit concluded in Khartoum, where the delegation met with the State Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Humanitarian Aid Commission and the government's Commission for Refugees to discuss ways of increasing security and protection assistance to internally displaced persons and Chadian refugees in West Darfur. Ambassador Escudero Martínez also met with members of the diplomatic corps, the Humanitarian Coordinator and the head of the Office for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.