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Senior UN Refugee Official to Visit Sudan and Chad

The acting U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Wendy Chamberlin, is starting a five-day mission to Sudan and Chad to assess humanitarian operations in those countries.

Acting U.N. High Commissioner Wendy Chamberlin will meet with government officials and aid partners Monday in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. Following that, she is scheduled to leave immediately for the troubled western region of Darfur, where she will spend Tuesday and Wednesday before crossing into Chad.

U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis says Ms. Chamberlin will meet with UNHCR staff working to help hundreds-of-thousands of people displaced by the conflict in Darfur.

"The continuing insecurity and massive displacement in the Darfur region makes it one of the most difficult protection environments for UNHCR anywhere," she said. "The conflict, as you know, has uprooted over two million people - 1.8 million within Darfur, and 200,000 others now across [the border] in our camps in Chad. So, on the ground, Ms. Chamberlin will meet with UNHCR staff and partners, and discuss the efforts to assist people who have been displaced."

Ms. Pagonis says the UNHCR has roving protection teams that travel to villages throughout west Darfur, and particularly along the border with Chad. She says the teams monitor the safety and well-being of displaced people, and check if there are any signs of possible refugee movements toward Chad.

Although conditions for refugees in Chad are difficult, she says, they do have regular access to help and protection. She says this is not the case in Darfur, where millions are displaced in hundreds of makeshift settlements, towns and villages.

The acting high commissioner's mission follows on the heels of a successful donor's conference on Sudan that was held in Oslo last week. That conference raised $4.5 billion for humanitarian operations in Sudan and Chad, more than twice the amount anticipated.

Ms. Pagonis says it is too soon to know whether the UNHCR will get all the money it needs for its operations. She says the agency is very low on cash earmarked for the region, including funds for reconstruction efforts in southern Sudan, where a 21-year civil war has recently ended with a peace agreement.

"We have to get the money to go ahead and do what we have to do," she said. "I really do not want to speculate about that. We are already busy down in south Sudan now rebuilding. We have got an emergency team on the ground. We are rebuilding schools. We are rebuilding clinics."

With the end of Sudan's civil war in the south, the United Nations expects about four million internally displaced people and another half-a-million refugees will want to return to their homes.

Ms. Pagonis says the UNHCR wants to begin repatriating refugees from neighboring countries in September. But, she says, before they can go home, the region's shattered infrastructure must be rebuilt. And, that she says, takes money.