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London Commemorates World Refugee Day


On World Refugee Day Friday, as the world commemorates the plight of 11 million people who have fled their homes, the U.N. refugee agency has created a refugee village in the heart of London. The aim is to highlight the plight of one refugee group - the millions who have fled the violence of the Darfur region of Sudan. VOA's Mandy Clark reports from London.

Standing in the ruins of smoldering home, a Darfuri women begs for help. It is not what you would expect to see in central London's Trafalgar Square, but this the "Darfur experience" refugee camp. Set up by the U.N. refugee agency to show the challenges aid agencies face in delivering aid to some of the world's most vulnerable people.

"We really want to create awareness, actually show the reality in which refugees live," said Alienor Salmon, a volunteer for the agency.

The reality is bleak - plastic tents, a few blankets, basic food provided by the World Food Program. And then there is the constant threat of rebels attacking the camps.

Half of the villages in Darfur have been destroyed, two thirds of the population is reliant on some form of humanitarian aid, and more than 2.5 million people had been displaced by the conflict. Fighting involving rebels, government troops, and government-backed militias broke out in 2003.

British opposition lawmaker, Andrew Mitchell, says that blame for the on-going crisis in Darfur lies with world leaders who promised to put a stop the bloodshed.

"Darfur stands as a condemnation to the leaders of the world who signed up to this responsibility to protect, which means nothing to these people who are frightened and anxious living in camps having been bombed and bullied out of their homes in Darfur, the world is not doing enough about it," he said.

Many visitors said they found the mock village compelling.

"It is a good thing for all the people to know what is happening in the world," said a visitor.

"I think it is a wonderful display and a very important one for getting help for Darfur," said another one.

"It is nice to actually walk through the camps and see the food parcels and actually talk to people to find out information," another visitor added.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, was on hand to launch the UNHCR's Global report just days earlier. He says the number of people fleeing violence and conflict last year has risen to 11.4 million worldwide.

"When one looks at today's world, one sees not only conflicts multiplying and conflicts intensifying and generating more and more people on the move," said Guterres. "And I can only ask the international community to be more and more involved together, acting together to make sure that these conflicts find an end."

Some Darfur refugees came to the event in central London. They say it highlights the need for the violence to end in their homeland.

Fatima Yalia says the mock village brought back memories

"I have goosebumps, it makes me feel awful inside, but the world has to see it," she said. "Darfur has suffered 12 years of war, it has to end."

The U.N. refugee agency says it is the international community's responsibility to humanity to help those in greatest need, the next generation depends on them.

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