Chadians trickle home from nearby Cameroon, others seek refuge

News Stories, 6 February 2008

© UNHCR Kousseri
Chadian refugees rest at the transit centre in Kousseri, Cameroon, after fleeing recent fighting in Chad's capital N'Djamena.

N'DJAMENA, 6 February (UNHCR) Chadians who had fled to Cameroon to escape fighting between rebel and government forces started trickling back home Wednesday morning after an uneasy calm returned to the Chad capital N'Djamena. Some were returning just for the day and planning to return to Cameroon overnight. But, other residents of the capital were still making their way across the border bridge to the security of the neighbouring country.

"Yesterday and this morning (Wednesday) some people were crossing back from Kousséri in Cameroon to N'Djamena for the day to check on their property," said Gilbert Loubaki, leader of a nine-person UNHCR emergency team dispatched to the border town of Kousséri. But, the uneasy security situation in N'Djamena has left most Chadians cautious about returning.

The UN refugee agency team in Kousséri estimates 20,000 to 30,000 Chadians streamed over the Chari River to Kousséri in Cameroon after fighting erupted in the Chad capital last Saturday between rebel forces and the army. Fighting has eased in the capital over the last two days but sporadic shelling could still be heard on Wednesday in the outskirts of N'Djamena.

The UN refugee agency emergency team is on the ground in Kousséri to help provide shelter and assistance to those Chadians who fled. A two-flight airlift to rush emergency relief supplies to Kousséri for the refugees is scheduled to get underway later Wednesday with the first flight from Dubai expected to land in Cameroon early Thursday. The two flights are carrying 90 tonnes of supplies from the agency's stockpiles in Dubai including plastic sheeting, jerry cans, blankets, mosquito nets, kitchen sets and plastic rolls. These supplies will be enough for 14,000 refugees and will boost the aid supplies for distribution already in Cameroon. A UNHCR truck with 15 tonnes of relief items including blankets, plastic sheeting and cooking sets arrived in Kousséri on Tuesday after a two-day trip from Bertoua, in eastern Cameroon.

Many refugees are staying with relatives in Kousséri, some have found refuge in schools while others are staying in the few hotels of the town. Between 7,000-10,000 refugees are staying at Madana transit centre located near the bridge over the Chari River. The UNHCR emergency team was scheduled to start building latrines and showers with the Cameroon Red Cross Wednesday to provide basic comfort and sanitation for the refugees.

"We want to first stabilize their situation before moving them next week to a more appropriate site in Maltam, some 32 kilometres from Kousséri," says Loubaki. The camp can host up to 100,000 people and is equipped with wells.

In eastern Chad, meanwhile, UNHCR and its partners continue to care for hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people despite the evacuation of 25 non-essential staff from UNHCR's main field operations base at Abéché because of security concerns.

UNHCR and its partners run 12 camps in eastern Chad sheltering some 240,000 Sudanese refugees from neighbouring Darfur. Another 50,000 refugees from the Central African Republic live 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.

These hundreds of thousands of uprooted people in Chad depend on international support and a very tenuous aid lifeline that must reach some of the most desolate and isolated parts of the country.




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

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Salihu Hassan, 57, from the Central African Republic may be a refugee now but he still wants to have a say in elections planned for December 27.
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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.
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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.