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Darfur does not apply
by Amin George Forji
2006-10-12 10:06:48
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Delegates from the 70-member Executive Committee of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) ended their week-long conference on Friday with deep concern about the ongoing humanitarian crises in Darfur, Sudan, that has internally displaced more than two million people and left over 265,000 others dead.

Violence broke out in February 2003, when the government-backed Janjaweed forces began raiding villages of black Africans in the region, committing some of the worst atrocities in recent memory, including the burning of villages, aggravated massacre, and wide-scale rapes.

The agency observed that the Janjaweed and the Sudanese government, through its armed forces, continue to seriously breach both human rights law and humanitarian law with impunity, and that despite the presence of a 7,000-strong African Union (AU) force, the region continues to be terrorized. The committee also said in its closing remarks that humanitarian access is now at its lowest level since 2004, as the government now seems bent towards a "dark agenda".

Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, speaking in a rather very sad mood, remarked that the internally displaced people of Darfur have no protection under international law because they are not classed as refugees, given that they have not crossed international borders into another foreign country, hence seriously limiting aid from international aid agencies. He said that in the circumstances, it is domestic law that continues to apply to them. Unfortunately, they are prosecuted by the same state authority that is supposed to protect them.

"Sometimes, in a simplistic way, people tend to say that internally displaced persons are just refugees who didn't cross the border... Unfortunately, things are not as simple as that because if you cross a border you become a refugee, you are protected under international law; you receive the protection of the host country. And there is a clear mandate for UNHCR in order to allow the international community to act on your behalf. But if you are internally displaced, you remain under the authority of your own state. And in many circumstances your state, your government, is not part of the solution -- it is part of the problem," explained Antonio Guterres.

"We are very worried with several situations around the world, and the one that of course has generated most interest ... is the dramatic situation of internally displaced people in Darfur," Guterres added. "How terrible it is for us, humanitarian workers, not to be able to deliver effective protection to internally displaced people in Darfur because of the prevailing security circumstances and the massive violations of human rights."

He noted that the situation is being worsened because people are not only being prevented from leaving the country, but neighboring border areas that could provide them with safe haven are being attacked. "There have been, as you know, not only confrontations between government forces and rebels, but also Janjaweed attacks on the other side of the border... We have even Chadian refugees, who have crossed the border into Darfur because of the insecurity in that area," said Guterres.

The agency, in their final statement, pleaded with all countries to kindly open their doors to people fleeing from wars and persecutions in their home countries. The statement also cautioned countries to understand the difference between asylum and migration.

Guterres later summarized the difference that while a refugee is someone fleeing persecution, war, and conflict, a migrant on the other hand is someone who moves to a different country for economic reasons. "It is very important, in the present environment, where so much intolerance prevails in so many societies, to make sure that people in need of protection are effectively granted protection, and that measures aiming at curbing illegal migration do not affect the right of refugees and the right of asylum-seekers to have physical access to asylum procedures and a fair treatment of their claims."

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