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UN Rushing Aid to Darfurian Refugees in CAR


U.N. aid agencies are rushing supplies to refugees who have recently fled from the Darfur region in Sudan to the Central African Republic. In the last few weeks more than 2,500 Sudanese refugees have fled to eastern CAR to escape intensified fighting. Lisa Schlein reports from Geneva.

The newly arrived refugees are camped out in Sam Ouandja near the Central African Republic's border with Sudan. U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis says the refugees began arriving there in late May, after fleeing repeated attacks on their home town of Dafak and surrounding villages in south Darfur.

"They say that they were bombarded by airplanes and by helicopters and were attacked by Janjaweed like forces and that included while they were trying to get to CAR [Central African Republic]," she said. "So, mainly they walked through the night. They walked about 200 kilometers along footpaths only accessible to human beings. They brought with them donkeys as well. So, that is how they made their way into CAR to seek refuge there."

Hundreds of thousands of people in Darfur have been killed and more than two million people displaced since war erupted in 2003 between Sudanese-backed Arab Janjaweed militia and African rebel forces.

More than 200,000 refugees from Darfur have fled to neighboring Chad. And the Central African Republic is hosting some 10,000 refugees, mainly from Chad, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In addition, Pagonis notes thousands of people in the CAR have been uprooted by homegrown rebel forces. She says they are living under very difficult conditions. Despite extremely limited resources, she says the local population and authorities have been very generous in welcoming this latest wave of refugees from southern Darfur.

"They have given them a place where they can put up their temporary shelters and they have shared with them the little food that they could spare," she added. "So, part of the assistance that is going up to Sam Ouandja will also be distributed to the local population, including seed and agricultural tools because they also find themselves in a dire situation."

Pagonis says the refugees are in a desperate condition. They have been surviving mainly on mangoes for the past few weeks. She says they are rapidly running out of food and have only a nearby creek for their water supply. This, she says, has resulted in a number of refugees becoming ill with diarrhea while others have malaria.

The World Food Program is scheduled to send 15 tons of high nutrition biscuits later this week. Pagonis says more aid is urgently needed.