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New site in West Darfur for internally displaced; continued arrivals in Chad

Briefing notes

New site in West Darfur for internally displaced; continued arrivals in Chad

26 February 2008

UNHCR and its partners have opened up a new site in the West Darfur region of Sudan to accommodate up to 6,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). The newly-established camp, called Abu Zar II, is located 2 km from El Geneina, the capital city of West Darfur State. The first group of 143 IDP families (about 500 people) who were displaced from Armankul village following violence in the area two weeks ago, will arrive tomorrow (Wednesday).

The group, many of whom fled the village of Saraf Jedad to Armankul earlier this year, are part of a larger group of 222 families (some 1,000 people) who were displaced for a second time and are in need of emergency assistance.

Last week UNHCR provided the entire group in Armankul with sleeping mats, blankets and jerry cans, prior to a screening exercise to determine those that are in need of relocation to the new camp.

Upon their relocation to Abu Zar II, the IDP families will receive additional household items from UNHCR, such as plastic sheets for shelter, and cooking sets.

Meanwhile, UNHCR is taking part in joint UN follow-up assessment missions to the villages of Sirba, Saleah, Abou Sourouj, Armankul, Kondobe, Saraf Jedad and Tendelti. In all these areas, some of the displaced populations are gradually returning, despite the destruction which followed attacks in the Northern Corridor, north of El Geneina, earlier this month.

Humanitarian agencies will need to further distribute food and relief emergency assistance to these affected populations, as they return.

Civilians who were affected by the recent air raids in the Northern Corridor are not currently moving southwards to El Geneina. They mainly go to other villages or have been hiding in the Jebel Moun mountains. Many also appear to attempt the dangerous journey into Chad in order to seek safety which they do not feel exists in the Northern Corridor, where continuing fighting was reported yesterday (Monday).

Meanwhile, in Chad, we sent two trucks with seven staff to the border with Sudan yesterday to continue our assessment missions, which were interrupted last week by ongoing bombing in West Darfur and increased insecurity at the border. Our team plans to stay three days in the Birak, Seinat and Korok areas, to assess the needs of the newly arrived refugees who have been arriving in Chad since February 9, following aerial bombing and ground attacks in West Darfur.

According to our team at the border, more people have crossed into Chad over the past week-end, following renewed attacks on Jebel Moun in West Darfur. It is difficult to estimate how many people have crossed as they are scattered over several villages. More groups of refugees continue to arrive steadily.

New arrivals in Birak and Seinat told us that bombardments and attacks have taken place near IDP camps and villages in Darfur, causing people to flee further north into the Jebel Moun area. Refugees added that last Friday, armed militia came and burned all remaining villages, prompting their residents to flee to eastern Chad.

The latest arrivals are mainly women, children and elderly people and they are extremely traumatized. Our team noticed that refugees who were right at the border a week ago have moved further to safer areas into Chad, away from the volatile border. Even though some refugees have briefly gone to their homes over the border to collect a few belongings, they said they do not want to return to Darfur at this stage.

Furthermore, refugees are suffering from exposure to the harsh weather, living in the open, with cold winds affecting especially children and the elderly. Two refugee women and two children died last night because of the cold temperatures. They were among the latest arrivals from Jebel Moun.

People wounded during attacks have been transported to health centres in Birak and taken care of. Our team at the border encountered several wounded people. For example, a five-year-old girl from the Seliah IDP camp in Darfur who was injured by shrapnel in her lower abdomen earlier this month. Her aunt was reportedly shot in the chest by militia after refusing to hand over a blanket while fleeing. Our colleagues also report several cases of sexual violence and abuse by militia against girls and women.

The vast majority of the new refugees in Chad had already been displaced once or twice in West Darfur since 2003 and are very traumatized by the recent attacks. All of them fear going back to Darfur and have asked to be moved further inland into Chad, as they do not feel safe near the border.