Up to 20,000 Chadians flee to Cameroon

Briefing Notes, 5 February 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 5 February 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A five-member UNHCR team arrived last evening in the Cameroon border town of Kousséri and estimates that up to 20,000 people have crossed the river border with Chad since Saturday to escape fighting in the Chadian capital of N'Djamena. As of this morning, frightened people were still crossing in a continuous flow.

UNHCR is also preparing to send two airlift flights this week from our regional aid stockpiles in Dubai to Cameroon. They will carry a total of 90 tonnes of relief supplies, including plastic sheeting, jerry cans, blankets, mosquito nets, kitchen sets and plastic rolls. These supplies will be enough for 14,000 refugees.

A large number of people are being hosted with relatives in Kousséri, while others found refuge in schools and some are staying in the few hotels of the town. Between 6,000 and 7,000 refugees are staying at a transit centre located near the bridge. The UNHCR team says these people are the most vulnerable ones as they have been spending the past few nights in the open, with very little protection from the elements. The refugees made two big bonfires last night to get some warmth.

We are planning to move these people as soon as possible to a better campsite in Maltam, 32 km from Kousséri. It's an old campsite used by UNHCR several years ago. The site in Maltam could host up to 100,000 people and is already equipped with wells. Authorities in Kousséri told us that 62 wounded people, who escaped fighting in N'Djamena, are being treated in the local hospital.

Our team is meeting again this morning with the authorities and the Red Cross in Kousséri in order to coordinate and speed up assistance to the refugees. Two UNHCR trucks with relief items such as blankets, plastic sheeting and cooking sets departed Bertoua, in eastern Cameroon, yesterday and are scheduled to arrive in Kousséri tonight.

A second UNHCR team is leaving for Kousséri today from Yaoundé. They are flying to Garoua and will then drive to Kousséri where they are expected to arrive tomorrow

In eastern Chad, meanwhile, UNHCR and its partners continue to care for hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people. But continuing security concerns led to the evacuation yesterday of 25 non-essential UNHCR staff from our main field operations base at Abéché. They were among 47 non-essential UN staff and 99 NGO workers flown in two UN planes to Yaoundé, in Cameroon. The decision to take this precautionary security measure was taken Sunday, following reports of bombing and attacks near Adré, east of Abéché near the border with Sudan's Darfur region.

Conditions are reported as calm but tense in Abéché. The security situation remains difficult further to the north, in Guéréda, where a series of armed attacks on UNHCR and other aid agencies last week forced an evacuation of most staff. There was another bandit attack on Mile refugee camp near Guéréda yesterday. Firing weapons, the armed men stole the sixth vehicle in a week, but no injuries were reported.

UNHCR and its partners operate 12 large refugee camps in eastern Chad with some 240,000 Sudanese refugees who have fled Sudan's neighbouring Darfur region. Another 50,000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) are in camps in southern Chad. In addition, UNHCR is involved in providing help to some of the 180,000 Chadians who have been displaced internally by earlier unrest in Chad.

As we have noted, these hundreds of thousands of uprooted people in Chad depend on international support and a very fragile aid lifeline that must reach some of the most desolate and isolated parts of the country. We urgently appeal to all sides to respect humanitarian principles and to halt the violence.




UNHCR country pages

Portraits of Darfur's Refugees

Nearly 200,000 refugees, the majority of them women and children, have fled across the border from Sudan into Chad since the outbreak of conflict in Sudan's Darfur region in March 2003. The refugees have left behind their homes and often loved ones in Darfur, where militias have reportedly killed and raped villagers, looted and burned houses and possessions and driven people from their homes.

Most of the refugees in eastern Chad are sheltered in 11 camps established by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, where they receive humanitarian aid, shelter, water and basic services.

Life in the camps is not easy in the desert environment of eastern Chad, where water and firewood are extremely scarce. Sandstorms are a regular feature during the dry months and torrential rains flood the landscape in the wet season.

Yet in the faces of the refugees, dignity and hope remain in spite of the hardships and the violence they have suffered.

Portraits of Darfur's Refugees

Chad: Relocation from the Border to Refugee Camps

Since fighting broke out in Sudan's western region of Darfur last year, more than 110,000 Sudanese refugees have fled into Chad. They are scattered along a 600-km stretch of desert borderland under a scorching sun during the day and freezing temperatures during the night.

Access to these refugees in this inhospitable region is difficult. Staff of the UN refugee agency drive for days to locate them. Bombing in the border zone and cross-border raids by militia from Sudan put the refugees at risk and underscore the urgent need to move them to camps in the interior. In addition, the approach of the rainy season in May will make the sandy roads impassable. Aid workers are racing against time in an attempt bring emergency relief to these refugees.

Chad: Relocation from the Border to Refugee Camps

Camp Life in Eastern Chad

Faced with nearly 200,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur fleeing into the barren desert of eastern Chad, the UN refugee agency has essentially had to build small villages – including shelter, latrines, water supply and basic services – to accommodate the refugees and help them survive in a hostile natural environment with scarce local resources. The 11 camps set up so far shelter more than 166,000 refugees from Darfur.

While much work still needs to be done, especially to find sufficient water in the arid region, life in the camps has reached a certain level of normalcy, with schools and activities starting up and humanitarian aid regularly distributed to the residents. Meanwhile, UNHCR continues to improve services and living conditions in the existing camps and is working to set up new camps to take in more refugees from the ongoing violence in Darfur.

Camp Life in Eastern Chad

Lake Chad: The New Normal Of ConflictPlay video

Lake Chad: The New Normal Of Conflict

The nations surrounding Lake Chad, one of Africa's largest freshwater lakes, are seeing an insurgency that began in Nigeria spread to their shores,. The total number of people in the region who have either fled across borders to escape violence, or been made homeless in their own countries, has now reached over 2.5 million people.
Cameroon: Escape from NigeriaPlay video

Cameroon: Escape from Nigeria

Attacks by Nigerian insurgents have spread to neighbouring countries in recent months, severely restricting the 'humanitarian space' aid organisations, like UNHCR, can operate in to help people made homeless by the unrest. The insurgents have also recently mounted a series of suicide attacks in Cameroon - the first such attacks in the country.
Cameroon: A Story of SurvivalPlay video

Cameroon: A Story of Survival

In Minawao camp, Cameroon, the memories of immense suffering are still haunting Nigerian refugees, even young children like Ibrahim.