UNHCR concerned about pressure on Darfur's IDPs to return
EL GENEINA, Sudan, Aug 10 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has expressed concern over pressure to get internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return to their devastated villages even as fighting, rape and displacement continue in western Sudan's Darfur region.
Addressing reporters at a news briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis said, "In West Darfur, we are concerned about continued pressure on displaced people to return to villages that are not safe and do not offer any possibility of a decent life, since most of the crops and homes have been destroyed by rampaging militias."
UNHCR staff visiting a hospital today report that some IDPs who heeded the authorities' advice and went back to the village of Beer Dageeg, north of El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, were attacked by militiamen overnight Friday. One woman was shot in both thighs and wounded in the side; her only son was killed in the attack.
In some villages, the government has posted policemen to convince the IDPs that it is safe to return, but the latter told UNHCR they were not reassured by the police presence and did not feel the time was right to go home.
In South Darfur, the government has said it intends to move tens of thousands of displaced people now living in Kalma camp and Kas town, near the provincial capital, Nyala. In West Darfur, the authorities have also announced their intention to move IDPs from a makeshift camp in Mornei, south-east of El Geneina, to a new camp to be called "New Mornei".
"UNHCR has consistently said that any movement of IDPs must be entirely voluntary, because people who have already suffered the trauma of being chased from their homes by armed militiamen do not need the further trauma of another forced move," Pagonis warned.
Meanwhile, more people continue to be displaced by fighting in Darfur. In recent days, hundreds of people in South Darfur have fled Serengabo, Taweela, Tebeldia and Qasar villages for squalid makeshift camps near Nyala. Sudan's Commission for Humanitarian Aid Coordination (HAC) said it expected more arrivals in and around Nyala because of recent fighting in the area.
"We have also received reports from international doctors in West Darfur that fewer cases of rape are coming for consultations at the clinic," said Pagonis. "However, we are concerned that this does not necessarily mean there are fewer cases of rape and sexual and gender-based violence against women, but could also indicate that pressure is being exerted on displaced women not to report rapes."
The UNHCR spokeswoman added that the agency has heard contrary reports that rape of women inside the IDP camps - which are not run by UNHCR - is in fact escalating.
The UN refugee agency has a small presence in Darfur, where it is supporting the international aid community's efforts to protect an estimated 1 million internally displaced people. On Sunday, a UNHCR protection officer held a workshop in El Fasher, North Darfur, to inform representatives of other UN agencies and international non-governmental organisations about internationally-agreed rights of IDPs.