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Sudan: UNHCR operational in western Darfur region

Briefing notes

Sudan: UNHCR operational in western Darfur region

25 June 2004

UNHCR has now become operational in Sudan's western Darfur region in response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. We opened a regional office in El Geneina on Tuesday that will serve as a base for our teams to help assist thousands of displaced persons in the region. Satellite premises are being established in Nyala in southern Darfur and El Fasher in the north from where UNHCR mobile teams will cover outlying areas. We currently have seven staff on the ground at these three locations, including five internationals.

We're working in Darfur following a request from the UN country team for our assistance in the areas of protection, camp management and site planning. UNHCR is already advising partner agencies in west Darfur on registration of displaced persons sheltering in various camps around El Geneina. We will also assist in improving living conditions in the displaced persons camps. In recent days UNHCR's site planner has been working at one camp, populated mainly by women head of households and their families, advising Islamic Relief - which is responsible for the site - on improving water, sanitation and lighting services.

Our emergency mission to Darfur will grow to 30 staff members over the next weeks, including 18 expatriates. UNHCR will lay the groundwork for joint efforts by relief agencies and the government to facilitate the eventual voluntary return of refugees and displaced persons to their communities of origin. We will also assist some 3,600 Chadian refugees to voluntarily return home.

UNHCR is seeking funds from donors to cover the cost of the new Darfur operation which is initially budgeted through the end of this year at $3.8 million.

An estimated one million people in Darfur have been displaced internally because of fighting between rebels and the government-backed militias. While the capacity of relief agencies to undertake aid efforts in the El Geneina area has recently increased, the ability of humanitarian agencies to meet the enormous needs in western Sudan remains greatly constrained.

In Chad, UNHCR is continuing to assist Sudanese refugees fleeing from Darfur. We have now moved over 110,200 refugees from the volatile affected border zone into eight camps and are continuing our efforts to move thousands more before the rainy season starts.

Meanwhile, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner Kamel Morjane is continuing his five-day mission in Sudan where he is discussing the potential return to south Sudan of more than 500,000 refugees who fled to neighbouring countries during the 21-year civil war.

Following meetings with government officials in Khartoum, Mr. Morjane flew to the south to see conditions for himself and review the requirements needed for the refugees and more than 3 million displaced people to return in safety. He spent last night in Rumbek, one of two towns in the south (along with Juba) where UNHCR has opened offices. Mr Morjane will return over the weekend.