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UNHCR Deeply Concerned About Plight of IDP's in Darfur

Delegates attending a United Nations refugee conference have expressed deep concern about the plight of millions of internally displaced people, especially those who have been uprooted by Sudan's conflict in Darfur. The week-long conference also urged countries not to close the door to people fleeing war and persecution.

There are about 24 million internally displaced people around the world. More than two million are in Sudan's conflict-ridden province of Darfur.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, says the people of Darfur have no protection under international law, because they are not refugees who have crossed international borders. He says, as internally displaced, they are under the authority of the State, and this limits what international aid agencies can do.

"How terrible it is for us, humanitarian workers, not to be able to deliver effective protection to internally displaced people in Darfur because of the prevailing security circumstances and the massive violations of human rights," he said.

War broke out more than three year ago between Sudanese-backed Arab militia known as the Janjaweed and several rebel groups. Tens of thousands of people have died and more than 200,000 have fled to neighboring Chad.

Guterres says the conflict in Darfur is spilling across its borders, and insecurity is spreading to both Chad and the Central African Republic.

"There have been, as you know, not only confrontations between government forces and rebels, but also Janjaweed attacks on the other side of the border," he said. "We have now people internally displaced in Chad. We have even Chadian refugees, who have crossed the border into Darfur because of the insecurity in that area."

Another area of concern highlighted at the conference was encouraging nations to understand the difference between migration and asylum.

Guterres says the distinction between a migrant who moves for economic reasons and a refugee who moves because of persecution and conflict is becoming increasingly blurred. This, he says, is putting the lives of people at risk.

"It is very important, in the present environment, where so much intolerance prevails in so many societies, to make sure that people in need of protection are effectively granted protection, and that measures aiming at curbing illegal migration do not affect the right of refugees and the right of asylum-seekers to have physical access to asylum procedures and a fair treatment of their claims," he said.

The high commissioner says it is ironic that more and more countries are shutting their doors to asylum-seekers at a time when claims for asylum are at an all-time low.