Peaceful solution must be found in Darfur, Annan tells refugees
IRIDIMI, Chad, July 2 (UNHCR) - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan today told Sudanese refugees in Chad that a peaceful solution must be found in the strife-torn Darfur region, and that security was paramount if they are to return home in safety.
Annan made these comments on Friday when he visited Iridimi camp, which hosts more than 15,000 Sudanese refugees who had fled western Sudan's Darfur region over the last year. Thousands turned up to greet him, chanting words of welcome. Some of the excited refugees held up banners that read: "Peace, not war" and "Voluntary return, return in security".
Picking up on the theme, Annan stressed that security is paramount, and that there was a need to find a peaceful solution in Darfur and to help the people return home in safety. He also thanked the Chadian government and people for accommodating the Sudanese refugees.
At the UNHCR-assisted camp, the Secretary-General met with local authorities and refugee leaders, and listened to the needs and their fears of a group of refugee women.
"I am touched that he came to see our situation for himself," said Houda Hasabalkeri, a representative of refugee women at Iridimi. "I hope he will put pressure so that we can all go back to Darfur. We will only go back if he can ensure our security there."
"We feel great joy that he came to see us. It opens up a door for hope," said Abakar Attom, President of the Refugee Association at Iridimi. "We are peasants, we were never involved in politics or in the army. I am asking Kofi Annan to protect us and to find a solution to the situation in Darfur so that we can go back to our country as soon as possible."
Iridimi is one of eight camps in eastern Chad that altogether house more than 118,000 refugees relocated from the border.
The UN refugee agency continues to transfer some 1,500 refugees to these camps every day, in a race against time before seasonal rains make roads impassable. On Tuesday, the agency completed the relocation of some 7,000 refugees from the border town of Ade to Djabal camp. Several thousand others are still living near the border, where they have chosen to remain because they have integrated with the local population.
In the southern end of the affected border stretch, heavy rains have filled up riverbeds (wadis), cutting off access to some roads and areas. In Goz-Amer camp, close to 1,900 tonnes of food have been pre-positioned, enough to feed the refugees for the next five months.
Relief supplies are still arriving in Chad, with daily flights from Pakistan that will bring a total of 16,100 tents, as well as a recent donation of items like mattresses, blankets, mosquito nets and kettles from the Libyan association, GIFCA.
To coordinate the refugee assistance, UNHCR has sent 10 additional international staff members to Chad, including protection officers, emergency and technical coordinators, and specialists in registration, child protection and sexual and gender-based violence. More experts on water, sanitation, site planning, telecoms and external relations have been identified and are ready to leave for Chad.
On the other side of the border, the refugee agency is working to improve living conditions for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region. On Thursday, UNHCR held a training session for some 40 government-appointed camp managers, some of whom were deployed to IDP camps around El Geneina on Friday.
The training focused on camp managers' responsibility to protect IDPs according to international standards, and especially to guard the rights of women and children. The camp managers - mostly lawyers and teachers - were instructed on how UNHCR works and the role of its partners in supplying aid and services to displaced people in camps.
An exact count of the number of displaced people in the camps has not been done, but the number is estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Most of the camps sprang up spontaneously as Darfur residents fled their torched villages, and are far from water sources in a scorching desert landscape.
UNHCR's site planning expert has been very busy examining the existing sites in order to make proposals for organizing them so that the refugee agency and its partners can better help the internally displaced people now living there.
On Sunday, UNHCR staff in Darfur plan to meet with some 3,500 Chadian refugees who fled to Sudan in the early 1980s. They say they also have been victims of the recent violence in Darfur and now want to go home to Chad with the agency's