The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has delivered the first emergency aid to thousands of people who fled clashes in Haskanita, North Darfur in late September. An armed opposition group attacked African Union peacekeepers in the Sudanese town on September 29 and 30, provoking the exodus. Lisa Schlein reports from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.
More than 5,000 people fled their homes following the attack. Spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Anna Schaaf, says they have been living under very difficult conditions in the countryside and villages around Haskanita.
"They had to give up their homes and all of their belongings and they have been basically living without shelter, living under trees for some of them. Some of them were luckier and were able to be sheltered by residents locally. And, of course, they would like to go home as soon as possible. That is what they told us. But, they have to be sure that security is O.K. before they go home and they have to make sure that they have access to the basic services like health care and food. So, it is going to be difficult," she said.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack on the African Union peacekeepers in Haskanita. But, it is widely believed the assault, which killed 10 soldiers and wounded eight, was carried out by an armed opposition group.
Haskanita was re-taken quickly by the government forces. But about one week later, the town was completely burnt down.
Schaaf tells VOA an ICRC team of 37 staff with 13 trucks has just returned from the area. She says they spent 10 days assessing the situation on the ground.
"This is the first distribution we have been able to do. The ICRC is the first humanitarian organization being able to distribute relief supplies on the spot. Basically, they have given them food like lentils, sorghum, oil and sugar and they have also provided the displaced people with emergency household items, such as sleeping mats, blankets, jerry cans, kitchen sets and tarpaulins for their shelter. Some also needed clothing and we have also had a doctor on the spot to provide emergency medical supplies."
Schaaf says the Red Cross also distributed relief items to the local residents, who despite their poverty generously helped the displaced. She says the area has had a bad harvest this year and the people are in need of assistance.
She says the Red Cross was able to carry out this mission because it has good relations with all parties in Darfur. Schaaf says the opposition groups guaranteed the ICRC safe access so the operation could proceed smoothly.