UN urges immediate protection for civilians in West Darfur and guaranteed humanitarian access for agencies

Monday, March 31, 2008

After two visits to communities affected by recent fighting in West Darfur, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan Ameerah Haq and representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations
Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) remain deeply concerned at the ongoing plight of civilians in the area.

After visiting Sirba and Sileah the team is calling again upon all parties to ensure the protection of civilians who have repeatedly borne the brunt of the intensified violence over the last few months.

Whole communities were forced to flee after the latest attacks on a string of villages north of El Geneina. Those already displaced had to flee again for safety to the Jebel Moun area. Dozens of civilians died while many more were injured. Up to 58,000 people remain affected.

“The impact on communities is devastating,” said Ms. Haq. “The United Nations in Sudan seeks strong assurances that civilians and their communities will be protected from such indiscriminate attacks.

These civilians have a right to protection,” she added.
In addition to the burning of homes, the United Nations team also witnessed how civilian structures such as health clinics, schools, water systems and aid agencies’ compounds had been looted or destroyed.

Ms. Haq also stressed the need for safe humanitarian access to affected communities, to continue recent efforts by the United Nations and its partners which have provided vital food, medical supplies, plastic sheeting and blankets as well as enabled engineers to restore and treat water supplies in some of the affected areas.

“We must have guarantees from all sides of unimpeded access to affected areas now,” said Ms. Haq.
“We specifically ask JEM to allow us access,” she added.

The United Nations team was also concerned at the impact of the fighting on women and children particularly those who have become separated from their families and those who remain unaccounted for. Efforts are underway to trace them and reunify them with their families.

“Five years into this conflict, civilians are losing all hope in our ability to protect them and keep them safe,” said Ms. Haq. “We have a collective responsibility to the people of Darfur, and that includes ensuring the support of the UN member states to enable UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] to deploy in these areas and action by the Government of Sudan to provide civilian police protection as a matter of urgency,” she added.

Source: OCHA