More Sudanese refugees reaching Chad as UN continues moves to safe camps

The number of Sudanese refugees relocated to safe camps inside eastern Chad and away from the dangerous border is likely to top 100,000 later this week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today, but hundreds more people are continuing to flee the war-torn region of Darfur because of deadly militia attacks. About 200 refugees arriving in Chad in the past two weeks have reported fresh attacks on their villages by the Janjaweed, bands of Arab fighters sponsored by the Sudanese Government, UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a press briefing in Geneva. Ms. Pagonis said one man told UNHCR staff that 150 armed men on horseback reached his village of Outacha early in the morning of 2 June, killing 12 people and stealing livestock. The deadly raid forced about 200 residents to leave Outacha and head for the Chadian border, with only the elderly staying behind. The man told UNHCR staff that he and his family had fled to the Chadian border in August last year after a previous Janjaweed attack, and that when they returned to Outacha after three months he discovered his home had been burnt. A woman from the village of Bahanoussa said militiamen also attacked her home early on 2 June, killing her son and brother, and forcing her to flee her village, Ms. Pagonis said. Farther south, near the Chadian border town of Goz Amer, about 200 new refugees arrive each week from Darfur, some by foot and some on donkeys and camels, she said. More than 150,000 refugees from Darfur have fled to Chad since early last year when fighting broke out between the Sudanese Government and two rebel groups. Many refugees say they left after Janjaweed militias burnt their villages and killed or raped family members and neighbours. Describing the situation as a humanitarian crisis, the UN and aid agencies estimate that at least one million people are internally displaced within Darfur, with many at risk of dying from malnutrition or disease. Yesterday, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland described the campaign by the Janjaweed – which has targeted Darfur’s black African population – as ethnic cleansing. A UN human rights report and a UN rapporteur have also criticized the Janjaweed’s actions and called on the Sudanese Government to better protect civilians in Darfur. UNHCR has been progressively relocating as many refugees away from the border as possible because of regular cross-border raids by the Janjaweed. Ms. Pagonis said the number of refugees transferred to the safe camps should pass 100,000 later this week. Meanwhile, Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), today ended a three-day tour of Darfur by calling for greater international efforts to avert a humanitarian disaster. Ms. Bellamy also urged Khartoum to remove all bureaucratic hurdles that might slow down relief work.

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