Talking Points for a Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the High-Level Donor Alert Meeting and Consultations on Darfur, Geneva, 3 June 2004
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The priority is to ensure that the fighting stops
Darfur today is the humanitarian community's biggest challenge. The priority for the Sudanese Government and for international community must be to ensure that the fighting stops. Failure to bring the situation under control will result in more atrocities against civilians, more needless loss of innocent life, more displacement and more refugee flows into Chad. It could undermine the peace process in southern Sudan and it may destabilize the entire sub-region.
Access to Darfur
As I said this morning, UNHCR will work with partners to assist the population in Darfur and to create conditions for the eventual return of refugees and the internally displaced. But allow me now to focus on the refugee situation in Chad.
Refugees in Chad - planning figures
We estimate that there are now between 150,000 and 175,000 refugees in eastern Chad. With refugees spread out over a vast area of over 500 kilometres, it is difficult to know the exact number. Because of the possibility of new large-scale influxes, we are now working with a planning figure of 200,000 refugees by the end of the year.
I would like to pay tribute to the Government of Chad and all our NGO partners who have made such efforts to address the most urgent needs of these refugees.
Relocating refugees away from the border
Although the safest place today for many people from Darfur is in Chad, the humanitarian situation on both sides of the border is appalling.
Armed incursions into Chad by Janjaweed militias pose a serious threat to the refugees. This, coupled with a highly hostile environment along the border areas inside Chad - with sandstorms, scorching sun during the day and freezing night time temperatures - has led us to focus our resources on moving as many refugees as possible to camps at least 50 kilometres away from the border. So far, we have relocated over 81,000 refugees to camps and we have helped thousands more at the border. Severe water shortages, lack of infrastructure and poor road conditions in a vast territory with scant resources have made it all even more difficult to operate.
In addition to our main office in N'Djamena, UNHCR has opened five offices in eastern Chad and will soon be opening a sixth one. With our partners, we have so far built seven camps for the relocated refugees and more are being prepared. Almost every day we organize convoys to transfer refugees away from the border. We are now in the midst of a major airlift of relief supplies - with two flights a day - to boost our stocks to meet the needs of up to 150,000 people throughout the course of the rainy season. Finding sufficient water remains a major challenge in this desert environment. We are working with contractors and partners all the time to drill more boreholes, but we still face serious problems and are also trucking in additional water from nearby villages.
We are working closely with 15 partners in eastern Chad. We are urging our partners to increase their own capacity and their own resources.
We need to act quickly before the rainy season
Torrential rains expected in the coming weeks will no doubt drastically hamper our operation. We need to move very quickly to ensure that as many refugees as possible are relocated to camps away from the border and that sufficient assistance is pre-positioned in these camps to cover their needs during the rainy season.
Apart from the challenge of providing urgently needed material assistance, we face a number of serious protection challenges. Together with the refugees themselves, local authorities and other stakeholders, we are continually developing our protection strategies and community services in the camps with a particular focus on women and children, and on problems of gender-based violence. We are also concerned about the threat of armed elements infiltrating the camps, and potential problems of forced recruitment, diversion of assistance and harassment of the refugee population.
We are also examining ways of ensuring the safety of refugees who cannot be relocated away from the border. The Janjaweed militia incursions pose the most serious protection concern. Tens of thousands of refugees remain at the border.
We are currently revising our budget and expect to announce a revised appeal for 200,000 refugees for 55.7 million dollars. This is a significant increase over our earlier budget of 20.7 million dollars. The increase takes into account the continued arrival of refugees, the need for even more camps than originally planned due to the ongoing shortage of water, and the possibility of additional large numbers of refugees fleeing into Chad should the situation in Darfur itself not improve.
Meanwhile, we have been struggling because of inadequate funding. Of the 20.7 million dollars we initially appealed for, we have so far received only 14 million dollars. This is a dramatic shortfall. We are now tapping into our own reserves; we are emptying our pockets to continue the operation. You cannot say that this is the humanitarian crisis of the day, and then not fund it. Since this is the only major new refugee crisis the world is currently witnessing, the lack of donor support is quite simply baffling.
Allow me to end, therefore, by making a strong appeal to donors to fully fund this emergency refugee operation.
At the same time, political negotiations must continue in order to reach a comprehensive peace agreement that addresses all the security issues in Darfur. A protracted refugee situation in Chad is not sustainable because of the enormous constraints, including water shortages and the environmental impact. Impoverished eastern Chad - despite the generosity of its people - is being severely affected by the influx and needs much more international assistance. Chad cannot keep receiving more and more refugees; it is simply too poor. We are facing a disaster - unless peace is restored in Darfur. And it is a total illusion to say that this emerging tragedy, if it continues, will not undermine the peace process in southern Sudan.