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Darfur Tops UN Refugee Conference Agenda  - 2004-10-04


U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers calls the plight of the people of Sudan's Darfur Province a reality of enormous and tragic dimensions. The desperate situation of the people in Darfur topped the High Commissioner's remarks at the opening of this year's week-long refugee conference in Geneva.

High Commissioner, Ruud Lubbers, spoke emotionally about his visit to refugee camps in Chad a week ago, where he met Sudanese villagers who had been chased from their homes.

"I spoke with the women, their daughters, the children," he said. "Listening to them, my eyes filled with tears and my heart with anger."

Mr. Lubbers recalled the many difficulties the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations had in gaining access to the civilian victims of the war raging in Darfur. He said it took the international community half a year to wake up to the killings and widespread atrocities occurring in Darfur.

"There is now an enquiry into the allegations of genocide, rape, and forced displacement. But, for many months the only response to this was that North-South peace was the priority," said Ruud Lubbers.

The United Nations considers Darfur the world's worst humanitarian catastrophe. An estimated 50,000 people have been killed, more than a million people have been made homeless, and nearly 200,000 have fled to neighboring Chad. The war between two African rebel groups and Sudanese-backed Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed, began early last year.

Despite new emergencies in places like Darfur, Mr. Lubbers spoke about the many positive refugee developments around the world. He said millions of refugees have returned home to formerly conflict ridden countries such as Afghanistan and Bosnia Herzegovina and that large-scale repatriations were now on-going in Africa. He said these returns had to be supported.

His colleague, World Food Program chief James Morris, agreed. He said when conflicts end and people finally can go home, their problems are far from over.

"Our work in Liberia and Angola both deserve special note," said Mr. Morris. "These are places when the conflict was present, it was easier to generate resources to do our work. But, in periods of post-conflict transition, it is much more difficult to generate resources to provide people with the same kind of help they needed in tougher days."

U.N. High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers warned that the institution of asylum was being eroded by fear, confusion, and politicization in many parts of the world. And, this at a time when the number of refugees and asylum seekers was declining. He noted that in the past three years the number of refugees and internally displaced people had fallen from nearly 22 million to more than 17 million.

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