Sudan: UNHCR chief - Refugee women need more protection

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Refugee camps in Eastern Sudan were home to 66,000 refugees, who faced difficulties accessing basic services, education and protection, Africa Bureau Director of the UN refugee agency George Okoth-Obbo said in Khartoum on 25 November.

The flow of refugees into Eastern Sudan was continuing at the rate of 1,800 persons per month, which created immense challenges in harsh surroundings, Mr. Okoth-Obbo of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said at an UNMIS-organized press conference after visiting three refugee camps.

"Acute poverty, persistent drought and deprivation, lack of access to health care and education, high levels of unemployment as well as land degradation and shrinking pastures" were hardships that refugees as well as the local population grappled with, he said.

Risks that female refugees in particular faced were human trafficking, sexual violence, abuse and rape, Mr. Okoth-Obbo said, adding that ensuring protection was a high priority for UNHCR.

Noting that there were 15,000 children in the 12 refugee camps in the East, he said, "Six thousand of these children lack primary education because refugee schools have not the capacity to absorb them. Many more fail to attend secondary school because families cannot afford the fees."

Speaking about Sudanese refugees, Mr. Okoth-Obbo mentioned the successful repatriation of close to 330,000 refugees from neighbouring countries, 75 per cent of those in exile at the beginning of 2005.