Sunday, August 28, 2005

I'm glad to see that the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees - who is currently visiting Sudan - agrees that it is still too dangerous for Darfur's two million displaced people to return to their villages.

"The UN is independent from the Government, so nobody can force you to return. That’s why the troops of the African Union are here," Mr. Guterres assured the leaders at Riyad camp, who told him that rape and burning of villages were still continuing in Darfur, the western region of Sudan that attracted worldwide concern last year, but has since slipped from the front pages.

Indeed, the UN's constant mantra of "things are getting better" and "peace before the end of year" have been doing a pretty good job of contributing to this impression that, really, Darfur no longer merits much of the general public's attention. Even my mother has been asking me if I might not be able to move to another job soon "But dear, I thought that all of this fighting has stopped now. Are you sure it's still dangerous?" (Trust me, not an easy one to answer if you are simultaneously trying to reassure your mother that no harm will ever come to her baby.)

The answer that the displaced people gave Mr. Guterres is one that I hear on an almost daily basis:

"There is still rape going on. Genocide is still going on and burning of villages is going on," the chief leader of the camp told him. "We have no security in this camp. Our situation is not living. It is as if we are in prison."

They will say the same thing tomorrow, and next week, and next month. Here's hoping important people like Mr. Guterres will keep visiting so that it's not just a few hapless aid workers and humanitarian activists hearing their words.

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