Sudanese Government must protect its own citizens UN refugee chief warns

As a new peace accord in southern Sudan opens up the prospect of the return home of millions of people uprooted by two decades of civil war, the top United Nations refugee official has called on the Government to live up to its duty to protect its own citizens after it demolished a camp and dumped its residents in the desert with no services.“We have seen conditions people are living in after their village was levelled, and we stress the Government’s responsibilities for its own citizens,” Acting UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Wendy Chamberlin said yesterday after visiting the squalid squatter camp of Shikan, near the capital Khartoum.UNHCR and the international community will hold the Government responsible for protecting its own people and helping them go back to their original homes, if that is what they want, she added.About 30,000 southerners lived in Shikan until the end of December, when the Government evicted them, dumping them in a desert area. But 5,000 have now drifted back, living in cardboard and burlap structures.“The standards for displaced people are the same as for refugees. They can only go home voluntarily, and must do so in safety and dignity,” Ms. Chamberlin, on a five-day visit to Sudan and Chad, said of the up to 6.1 million southerners estimated to have been uprooted from their homes to other parts of the country by the civil war. A further 550,000 refugees fled to neighbouring countries, mainly Uganda and Kenya.Yesterday she also visited the official camp of Omdurman es Salaam, run by the Government on the outskirts of Khartoum, home to 120,000 displaced people who now live in box-like mud-brick houses and even have their own makeshift church. But the residents, some of whom fled in 1986, call the camp Gaborona, meaning “forced to be here.”Women who have lived there for nearly two decades told her they could not afford to go home yet, and fear their children will not find schools in the south, ravaged by Africa’s longest-running civil war before a peace accord ended it in January.Today, Ms. Chamberlin was set to visit the Darfur region, where a separate and ongoing conflict has displaced nearly 2 million people. She will stress UNHCR’s role in protecting displaced people, especially in counselling and helping women victims of rape. Later this week, she is to cross the border into eastern Chad, home to a further 200,000 Darfur refugees. read more

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