UN refugee agency gives emergency aid to more than 26000 Sudanese in

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has begun supplying emergency aid, including blankets and food, to more than 26,000 refugees in the border area, a spokesman for the agency reported today. Women and children form the majority of the estimated 95,000 refugees who have sought safety in eastern Chad since April. Driven by militia raids, widespread looting and stealing of livestock, they fled the Darfur region of western Sudan on foot by night in small groups to avoid detection.Meanwhile in New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan today hailed “good progress” being made in peace talks between the Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). “I have been speaking to the leaders of Sudan and [SPLM leader John] Garang – and in fact yesterday I spoke to Garang again – urging them to go ahead and complete the process,” he said, voicing hope that an agreement would be reached before the end of this month. “That would be another big New Year’s gift to the people of Sudan and to the people of Africa,” he added.On the ground in the eastern part of the country, UNHCR and its non-governmental organization (NGO) partners have supplied blankets, mats, jerry cans and food, including cooking oil and sorghum, to over 13,000 people encamped on the insecure border areas.On Wednesday, the refugee agency will start distributing emergency aid – including blankets from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – to other groups of 13,500 vulnerable Sudanese living along the border.UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond characterized the situation as an “invisible emergency” in comments to reporters today in Geneva. He said the plight of the Sudanese refugees is of “extreme concern” to the agency.Many of the refugees have been living for months in flimsy, makeshift shelters in the remote area where desert conditions mean that temperatures are high in the day but can plunge to less than 10° Celsius at night. According to agency staff involved in aid distribution, some have been forced to sell blankets and other possessions, including relief items distributed earlier, in order to feed their families. They need both food and supplies to cope with the harsh living conditions.At the same time, UNHCR and its partner agencies are working to relocate up to 9,000 refugees from the border by mid-January to an inland camp at Farchana where they will be formally registered, undergo medical screening, and receive a family site, blankets, mats, soap, jerry cans and food.Some estimates place the number of internally displaced Sudanese in the Darfur region at over 600,000. This displacement is only the latest in 20 years of civil conflicts that have uprooted more than 4 million people inside Sudan, and driven another 570,000 into neighbouring countries. read more