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Christmas for New Zealander in Darfur, Sudan

Friday 24 December 2004

Christmas for New Zealander in Darfur, Sudan

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand and Christian World Service (CWS) supported relief efforts are continuing in Darfur amidst ongoing violence and escalating numbers of displaced persons. Christmas will not bring good tidings to the troubled region.

As we celebrate Christmas day with our families and friends; Caritas, the Catholic agency for justice, peace and development and CWS, the New Zealand Protestant Churches' agency for aid and development, ask New Zealanders to think too of those far from home, working in some of the world's worst humanitarian situations to bring hope to people left devastated by conflict and famine.

The thoughts of CWS and Caritas will be especially with Kate Zwartz who left Wellington in August to be part of the international ACT/Caritas team in Darfur. She will be spending her Christmas in Zalingei, home to some of the largest camps for internally displaced people since the Janjaweed militia began their attacks on rural villages in Sudan.

The situation in Zalingei, like the rest of Darfur, remains extremely volatile and security in the camps is tenuous with increasing reports of armed clashes threatening humanitarian progress. Zwartz has said that due to the security situation, it is increasingly difficult to get supplies and food through to the camps, threatening the progress made by relief efforts to date.

Although the situation in Darfur is affecting millions, there have been no decisive steps towards a resolution of the conflict.

"The people in the camps are stuck between a past they don't want to remember and a future they cannot see or even glimpse," said Anne Lise Fossland, from the Action by Churches Together (ACT) International/Caritas program in Darfur.

Despite the growing danger for relief workers, CWS and Caritas are making every effort to meet the urgent needs of the local people and are not withdrawing staff at this stage.

"Our humanitarian presence on the ground is the one thing that has improved protection for civilians, irrespective of the side of the conflict they find themselves on. We need people on the ground seven days a week, 24 hours a day to help protect people. If the deteriorating situation forces the humanitarian community to reduce their presence or even leave, then it's most likely that the personal safety of the individual displaced person is going to deteriorate," says Nils Carstensen, of the ACT International/Caritas program.

New Zealand's Kate Zwartz is assisting with water and sanitation works in the camps. CWS and Caritas are also supporting work to provide food relief, medical services, shelter, trauma counselling and schooling.

New Zealanders have given generously to the Darfur crisis but further assistance is still required.


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