No going home yet for Darfuris in refugee camp

AP News
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Posted: Oct 14, 2010 5:00 PM
No going home yet for Darfuris in refugee camp

The kids in this Darfur refugee camp have lived here for all or most of their lives, and won't be going home soon.

Children in dust-coated jeans or robes speak of one day becoming doctors, translators or journalists, but on the day a U.N. Security Council visited, they seemed more immediately preoccupied with getting a change from their diet of lentils or casserole.

"We don't have enough food," said Halima Ibrahim, 33 and a mother of six, worry etched on her face. Her husband is disabled and unemployed. The seven-year war in this region of Sudan had subsided somewhat, but violence is picking up again. "Where's the security for us to go home?" Asked Ibrahim.

She says she occasionally bakes a few pastries and sells them. She and many others complain of hunger, no jobs, poor schools and fear of the janjaweed, Arab militias said to be allied with the government, who have been accused of committing atrocities.

Sexual assaults against women _ in a conflict where rape is said to be used as a weapon _ remain a major worry.

U.N. officials aren't sure how many refugees they are dealing with. They say they are recounting the population of all the camps in Darfur to figure out how much food is needed. Overall, the war has left an estimated 2.7 million homeless.

Georg Charpentier, the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, told journalists the World Food Program last estimated the Abu Shouk camp's population at more than 50,000, but a local sheik put the number around 30,000.

Several U.N. officials accompanying last week's Security Council visit gave figures of 85,000 to 95,000.

Charpentier said camp-dwellers are not hungry, and are able to sell surplus food for cash. Reporters saw fresh sugar cane and watermelons piled on the ground next to some of the markets. Donkeys carried sorghum.

"There was sorghum coming in, some ladies selling grains, maize, sorghum, a bag of U.S. food aid on the market," Charpentier said. "Food is not lacking. ... We are at the peak of the harvest, and it's a very productive area."

But Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., said the overall situation in Darfur is not good.

"Malnutrition and insecurity remain persistent problems," Rice, who co-led the Darfur segment of the trip, said on Twitter. "The children need us to fight for them."

Council members toured health facilities that were shabby, insect-ridden and offered only basic services.

A headmaster in Abu Shouk camp pleaded for help, saying his 650 pupils were unhappy and his school was falling apart.

A young girl, too shy or afraid to give her name, described life in the camp as "ugly."

The delegation also visited Southern Sudan, a zone of strife separate from Darfur, where a referendum next January is supposed to decide whether the predominantly Christian and animist region will secede from the mainly Muslim north.

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The referendum grew from a 2005 peace deal to end a north-south civil war of more than 21 years that left 2 million dead. But tensions are being stoked that the vote won't be held as planned, and the result will be renewed civil war.

Southern Sudan's referendum is scheduled for Jan. 9, and separate balloting is slated for the same day over Abyei, Sudan's main oil-producing region, which straddles the line between north and south.

At U.N. headquarters in New York, the Security Council discussed the trip Thursday. British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said leaders in Sudan's north and south showed "a strong commitment" to implementing the peace deal.

But he said "key outstanding issues" remain unresolved _ such as who should be eligible to vote.

After the Sudanese government expelled some of the biggest aid groups from Darfur last year, fears were raised of a humanitarian crisis. Sudan is Africa's largest country, and its wars have made it the target of the U.N. World Food Program's biggest operation, aiming to feed 11 million people this year _ more than a quarter of the population.

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On the Net:

World Food Program: http://www.wfp.org/

Medair: http://www.medair.org/

Save The Children: http://www.savethechildren.org.uk