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Frontline Diary

1 August 2004: Travelling with UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors in Darfur

© UNICEF Sudan/2004/Westerbeek
Children and women in the Dereg settlement, South Darfur

UNICEF’s Sacha Westerbeek accompanies the Belgian Minister of Development and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors (celebrity supporters of UNICEF), who want to see for themselves the situation of displaced people in Darfur. Visits include a stop at a hospital and a visit to an informal settlement where Darfurians are living in makeshift shelters.

NYALA, Darfur, 1 August 2004 – In a bus we drive to the plane that is going to take us to Nyala, South Darfur. When the bus stops, I can see the technicians working on the engine. The pilot is friendly and promises to call my mobile when everything is fixed. Feeling more anxious than before, we drive back to the waiting lounge.

With me is a group of nine Very Important People, among whom are: Mr. De Decker (Belgian Minister of Development), Martin Bell (former BBC correspondent), Frank De Winne (astronaut) and Silvia Abascal Estrada (actress). This interesting group has one thing in common: They all care about UNICEF and are here to see how we operate in Darfur.

When we eventually arrive in Nyala we stop for a courtesy visit with the Wali, the Governor of Southern Sudan. He tells the group about the improved security situation in Darfur. His message is clear: ‘Nothing to worry about, everything seems to be under control.’

I had planned to take the group to Kalma IDP (internally displaced persons) camp, 14 km out of Nyala, but unfortunately this is not possible due to a ‘situation’ in the camp. UN and NGO staff have to leave as soon as possible as their safety can not be guaranteed.

Instead we go to the hospital in Nyala to visit the therapeutic feeding centre. The visitors take photos of the children and listen to the stories of the women. Many of the women were forced to leave their homes, lost all their belongings and witnessed the killings of their husband or relatives.  Afterwards we are on our way to the next location.

© UNICEF Sudan/2004/Westerbeek
Darfurians travelling by donkey in Nyala

Dereg camp is an informal settlement just outside Nyala town. There are no humanitarian organizations present yet to provide for basic needs. I listen to people who have been requested to return to their villages of origin.

Overnight they walked all the way back to Nyala as they felt insecure. I see malnourished children, and children with rashes and skin diseases I’ve never seen before. The makeshift shelters are no bigger then a small tent. All over Darfur, entire families are sharing shelters made out of grass, sticks, and (with a bit of luck) pieces of plastic.

The rain starts in the afternoon. We’d better go back. Due to lack of accommodation facilities they have to share the three available – very basic – rooms and sanitation facilities. They don’t mind, knowing that it is only for two nights. (Which is a good thing as one of the visitors fell through his bed during the night.)

The IDPs in the camps are not sure how long they will stay. But they have no beds to worry about. If they are lucky the family can sleep on a mat.



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