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6/21/04 - WORLD REFUGEE DAY AND DARFUR - 2004-06-21

In remarks for this month’s World Refugee Day, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. is committed to helping the millions of displaced people around the world. The U.S. remains the largest contributor to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the country that accepts the most refugees each year.

According to the U-N High Commissioner’s office, there are more than seventeen-million refugees around the world. In the past year, many people have been driven from their homes in Sudan’s western region of Darfur. There has been fighting in Darfur between Sudanese government-supported Arab militias and black African rebels. There have also been attacks on civilians by the militias, known as the janjaweed. The violence has caused well over one-million people to flee their homes. More than one-hundred thousand have sought refuge across the border in Chad.

The U.S. has already contributed more than one-hundred-ten million dollars in aid and refugee assistance to the region. Contributions have also come from France, Germany, Pakistan, Denmark, and other countries. But Andrew Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, says that three things are needed to help the people of Darfur: an end to the violence, especially the atrocities by government-backed militias; unfettered humanitarian access; and a way to deliver relief supplies:

“If we have these three things, we can avoid a catastrophe. If we do not, we will have a very large-scale loss of life by this fall. People are already beginning to die in some of the camps.”

The people who fled Darfur were lucky to escape with their lives. Many saw their villages and crops burned, and their water sources destroyed. Some of the displaced in Darfur and refugees in Chad have been victims of rape, mutilation, and other acts of savagery by the Sudanese government-supported militias.

The U-N Security Council has voted unanimously for a peacekeeping mission that would help implement a recent peace accord between the Sudanese government and rebels in southern Sudan. The U.S., says Secretary of State Powell, will continue “to press the government of Sudan to stop the violence and give [aid workers] unrestricted access to the suffering people of Darfur.”