From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
The bitter three-year conflict in western Sudan has left hundreds of thousands dead and some 2 million—mostly women and children—homeless, fearing for their lives at the hands of government-sponsored killers. Actress Mia Farrow, fresh from a June UNICEF visit to Africa, shares her photos—and her passion for the people

"In the faces of these women and children," says Mia Farrow (above, in blue, in a UN helicopter, next to son Ronan, 18), "you can see how traumatized they are. Their husbands were slaughtered in mass executions. Little girls 12 and younger were raped. They've endured unthinkable suffering."

This woman (below) is one of the lucky ones. To get the firewood they need to cook grain given out by aid workers in the camps, most have to travel by foot—10 miles each way—under the constant threat of rape, Farrow says. "Women are bowed down with as much wood as they can bear on their backs. The government militia is all over the place. They sliced the leg and ankle tendons of women I talked to, so they had to hobble."

"I suddenly saw 126,000 people sprawled out over the desert," says Farrow of a helicopter trip she took with UNICEF on June 12. "It was heart-stopping. I knew that under every piece of tarp was a family of four, five or more people." With 90 percent of the villages in Darfur burned—"like ash on the desert floor, like a cigarette had been put out," Farrow says—families seek safety in refugee camps like Greida (left), one of 200 in the region.

"Everywhere I went, women asked for 'Water, water, water,'" Farrow says. "They were desperate for wells inside the refugee camps so they wouldn't get attacked looking for water." With 14,000 humanitarian aid workers in the region—the largest such effort in the world—there have been improvements: About 12 percent of people were malnourished in 2005 compared with 22 percent a year earlier and the death rate has dropped by half. But continuing violence, warns Farrow, raises "the possibility of the total collapse of humanitarian help."

Fighting erupted in Darfur in 2003 after black African rebels attacked Sudanese forces at an airport. The government retaliated and sanctioned attacks by the Janjaweed—an Arab militia on horseback that torched villages and raped, mutilated and killed their inhabitants. Since then an estimated 200,000 to 450,000 people have died and 2 million are homeless. In May the government and one rebel group (at left) signed a peace agreement—but infighting among other rebel factions now leaves the country on the brink of war. "It's an incendiary situation," Farrow says. "The men are at a feverish pitch. It cannot hold."

The 2 million refugees in camps are supported entirely by UNICEF and other aid organizations. Increased fighting in Darfur, however, may force humanitarian volunteers to withdraw. "If that happens, hundreds of thousands could die," says Farrow. At the moment, 7,000 peacekeeping forces from the African Union—a continental coalition—monitor the region, but are set to pull out in September.

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