UNHCR concern at refugee kidnappings, disappearances in eastern Sudan

Briefing Notes, 25 January 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 25 January 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is seeing rising incidents of abductions and disappearances of mainly Eritrean refugees, allegedly involving border tribes, in eastern Sudan. This is occurring in and around refugee camps.

Over the last two years we have seen people disappearing from the Shagarab camps some of them kidnapped, and others believed paying to be smuggled elsewhere. Those who are kidnapped are often held for ransom or trafficked onwards for the purpose or forced marriage, sexual exploitation or bonded labour.

Because of the mixed forced / voluntary nature of the problem, data accuracy is an issue. Our Sudan office reports 619 people having left the camps over the past two years, with 551 of these in 2012. In addition are further but unconfirmed cases.

The latest kidnapping incidents, involving four refugee women occurred in the Shagarab camps during the night and early morning of 22 January. Refugees in the camp, which hosts 29,445, had also reported the kidnapping of a refugee man the previous week. In anger at these incidents, some refugees attacked members of one of the local tribes who they thought were responsible for the abductions. The ensuing violence left several injured among the host population and the refugees. Calm has since been restored.

The risk of being kidnapped is highest for Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers as they enter Eastern Sudan. Based on numerous reports and individual interviews, the main actors responsible for smuggling and human trafficking from Eastern Sudan into Egypt are local tribesmen in Eastern Sudan and in the Sinai, as well as some criminal gangs. Some asylum seekers are kidnapped at the border between Eritrea and Sudan, before reaching the camps, while others are kidnapped in and around the camps in Eastern Sudan. Those who deliberately resort to smugglers appear to do so either to enter Sudan or for onward movement into Egypt or Israel. In many cases they also end up being abused by their smugglers who sell them to traffickers or detain them for ransom.

UNHCR is working with the Sudanese authorities, the International Office for Migration and other humanitarian agencies to reduce the risk of abductions and kidnappings in the area. The Government of Sudan has already deployed additional police and we are supporting the authorities to improve overall security, including with the construction and rehabilitation of police stations, provision of vehicles and communication equipment. UNHCR is also assisting the refugees in the Shagarab camps with setting up a community-based policing system to reduce security risks.

We are also providing psycho-social counselling to survivors of trafficking and provide legal aid to those in detention by advising them on judicial procedures and securing their release

UNHCR calls on all national and international actors to step up efforts to counter criminal groups seeking to exploit refugees and asylum-seekers and to reduce the risks of kidnapping, smuggling and trafficking of people.

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International Women's Day 2013

Gender equality remains a distant goal for many women and girls around the world, particularly those who are forcibly displaced or stateless. Multiple forms of discrimination hamper their enjoyment of basic rights: sexual and gender-based violence persists in brutal forms, girls and women struggle to access education and livelihoods opportunities, and women's voices are often powerless to influence decisions that affect their lives. Displaced women often end up alone, or as single parents, battling to make ends meet. Girls who become separated or lose their families during conflict are especially vulnerable to abuse.

On International Women's Day, UNHCR reaffirms its commitment to fight for women's empowerment and gender equality. In all regions of the world we are working to support refugee women's participation and leadership in camp committees and community structures, so they can assume greater control over their lives. We have also intensified our efforts to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence, with a focus on emergencies, including by improving access to justice for survivors. Significantly, we are increasingly working with men and boys, in addition to women and girls, to bring an end to dangerous cycles of violence and promote gender equality.

These photographs pay tribute to forcibly displaced women and girls around the world. They include images of women and girls from some of today's major displacement crises, including Syria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and Sudan.

International Women's Day 2013

The Most Important Thing: Syrian Refugees

What would you bring with you if you had to flee your home and escape to another country? More than 1 million Syrians have been forced to ponder this question before making the dangerous flight to neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq or other countries in the region.

This is the second part of a project by photographer Brian Sokol that asks refugees from different parts of the world, "What is the most important thing you brought from home?" The first instalment focused on refugees fleeing from Sudan to South Sudan, who openly carried pots, water containers and other objects to sustain them along the road.

By contrast, people seeking sanctuary from the conflict in Syria must typically conceal their intentions by appearing as though they are out for a family stroll or a Sunday drive as they make their way towards a border. Thus they carry little more than keys, pieces of paper, phones and bracelets - things that can be worn or concealed in pockets. Some Syrians bring a symbol of their religious faith, others clutch a reminder of home or of happier times.

The Most Important Thing: Syrian Refugees

A Family On the Move in South Sudan

When fighting erupted in Kormaganza, Blue Nile state, in September last year, 80-year-old Dawa Musa's family decided to flee to the neighbouring village of Mafot. Dawa was too frail to make the two-day journey by foot, so her son, Awad Kutuk Tungud, hid her in the bush for three days while he moved his wife, Alahia, and nine children to safety. Awad returned for his mother and carried her to Mafot, where the family remained in relative safety for several months - until artillery began shelling the village.

Awad again fled with his family - this time across the border to South Sudan. For 15 gruelling days, he carried both his elderly mother and his daughter Zainab on his back, until they reached the border crossing at Al Fudj in February. UNHCR transported the family to Jamam refugee camp in South Sudan's Upper Nile state. They lived in safety for seven months until heavy rains caused flooding, making it difficult for UNHCR to bring clean water to the camp and bringing the threat of highly contagious waterborne diseases.

UNHCR set up a new camp in Gendrassa, located 55 kilometres from Jamam and on higher ground, and began the relocation of 56,000 people to the new camp. Among them were Awad and his family. Awad carried his mother once again, but this time it was to their new tent in Gendrassa camp. Awad has plans to begin farming. "Come back in three months," he said, "and there will be maize growing."

A Family On the Move in South Sudan

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