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Peace Deal Fails to Stop Darfur Refugees

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The United Nations Humanitarian Chief, Jan Egeland, says the current aid operation for the refugees in Darfur is, quote, "unsustainable." He appealed to the government of Sudan to ease travel restrictions to the region. The aid operation in Darfur is one of the largest in the world, but food rations were cut in half earlier this month due to funding shortages.

Egeland urged the Sudanese government to fill the gap. The appeal comes on the heels of a peace agreement signed last Friday between the government and the main rebel group in Darfur. Joining us now is Vanessa Van Schoor. She is the Head of Mission for Doctors Without Borders in Nyala, a town in Darfur. And hello.

Ms. VANESSA VAN SCHOOR (Head of Mission, Doctors Without Borders, Nyala, Sudan): Hi.

MONTAGNE: Despite the peace agreement, the humanitarian crisis remains. Is there any sense that the accord will lead to an improvement in the situation in Darfur?

Ms. VAN SCHOOR: Well, there's always a hope when the parties to a conflict seek a political rather than a military solution. But on the ground, we are not seeing any significant changes, yet. If anything, we've seen an increased number of casualties coming into our clinics.

MONTAGNE: Tell us, then, a little bit about what the situation is as of today?

Ms. VAN SCHOOR: As of today, I've got one hospital closer to the Chadian side of the border. It's got 25 beds, but I've still got about 35 patients crammed into it. And we're treating from everything from trauma to meningitis, to neonatal tetanus diseases that should have been eradicated years ago.

In the south there's been increased conflict, and so a number of agencies who are working that way cannot get their medical teams down; they can't get their supplies down. And then I've got a second hospital where, over the last few weeks, we've seen probably almost up to hundred cases of gunshots, mainly civilians coming in, women, children, and I'm sitting there with--I think we've got about 35 beds in the hospital, and I've got 84 patients on the floor, in the beds, all around.

If there's any way to make an appeal for medical staff who would be willing to work in Darfur, we can definitely use some more midwives and doctors.

MONTAGNE: Do you know what the situation now is in Kalma, one of the oldest and largest refugee camps there?

Ms. VAN SCHOOR: Yeah. What you've got is close to 100,000 people living in the camp. You've got a new influx of people coming from the south, due to new fighting that's happened down there. You've got a handful of organizations running clinics, pumping water in there. There are times when we are getting restrictions on getting supplies in, which sometimes means cutting the water supply.

So you've got a very tense population who not only are in fear of militia who go on the rampage a bit outside of the camp, where you've got women who try to go and collect fire wood who may risk being attacked or raped on the outside; inside the camp, they try to have as much of a normal life as possible. But it can't be very normal when you're living under a piece of plastic sheeting with no prospect of any return to your village in the near future.

MONTAGNE: How did the refugees, with all of this happening to them, respond to the news of this peace agreement?

Ms. VAN SCHOOR: You've got really mixed reactions on the ground. There are some people who are excited that there is some hope for a change in the situation. You've got others who are against it. You've got others who are skeptical that, even though the leadership in Abuja may have signed it, not all of the leaders have signed it.

And then there are a lot of questions about whether the people who are in charge on the ground are actually going to adhere to the terms of the peace agreement.

MONTAGNE: Vanessa Van Schoor is the Head of Mission for Doctors Without Borders in Nyala, a town in southern Darfur. Thank you for talking with us.

Ms. VAN SCHOOR: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.