|© UNICEF/HQ07-0244/ Pirozzi|
|Girls stand outside their school, waiting to greet UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow (not pictured), at the Djabal refugee camp in Chad.|
By Chris Niles
NEW YORK, USA, 13 February 2008 – UNICEF has conducted its first mission to northern West Darfur in the wake of an attack by Sudanese forces there.
The assessment team visited the towns of Sirba and Abu Surouj, where buildings had been burned and thousands of residents fled. The team found widespread damage.
“Initially, people needed food and medicine, there were cases of malnutrition, but the most common problem was people were burned,” said UNICEF Resident Project Officer Naqibullah Safi. “There are some civilian casualties, but exact figures are not known. Most shelters in Sirba have been burned, and 60 to 70 per cent of Abu Surouj.”
Attacks spark mass evacuation
The attacks have sparked a mass evacuation from the region. Of the 12,000 residents of Abu Seruj, only 2,000 to 3,000 remain. But where they have gone is uncertain.
There are reports that about 12,000 people have fled into Chad, which has prompted that country’s government to say it cannot take any more refugees from Darfur.
|© UNICEF/HQ07-0262/ Pirozzi|
|Women wait in line to receive supplies at the Djabal refugee camp in Chad. The majority of the camp’s 14,000 residents are Sudanese and have fled there to escape the ongoing conflict.|
Others have taken refuge in Sudan, especially into the area controlled by the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The government said it launched the raids on Sirba, Abu Surouj and Suleia on Friday to drive out JEM fighters.
Up to 30,000 people displaced
“We do not know the exact figures, but there are indications as many as 30,000 people might have been displaced,” said Mr. Safi.
One of UNICEF’s main concerns is over the well-being of the large numbers of children who have been orphaned or abandoned by their parents, or have gone missing in the confusion of the last few days. Initial reports suggest that up to 800 children were unaccounted for, but that number is probably lower.
“There’s an unknown number of children aged 12 to 18 who are missing, especially boys. Nobody knows what has happened to these children,” said Mr. Safi.
12 February 2008:
UNICEF Resident Project Officer Naqibullah Safi describes the situation in northern West Darfur.