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.

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Crisis in the Central African Republic

Little has been reported about the humanitarian crisis in the northern part of the Central African Republic (CAR), where at least 295,000 people have been forced out of their homes since mid-2005. An estimated 197,000 are internally displaced, while 98,000 have fled to Chad, Cameroon or Sudan. They are the victims of fighting between rebel groups and government forces.

Many of the internally displaced live in the bush close to their villages. They build shelters from hay, grow vegetables and even start bush schools for their children. But access to clean water and health care remains a huge problem. Many children suffer from diarrhoea and malaria but their parents are too scared to take them to hospitals or clinics for treatment.

Cattle herders in northern CAR are menaced by the zaraguina, bandits who kidnap children for ransom. The villagers must sell off their livestock to pay.

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More than 180,000 Sudanese refugees have fled violence in Sudan's Darfur region, crossing the border to the remote desert of eastern Chad.

It is one of the most inhospitable environments UNHCR has ever had to work in. Vast distances, extremely poor road conditions, scorching daytime temperatures, sandstorms, the scarcity of vegetation and firewood, and severe shortages of drinkable water have been major challenges since the beginning of the operation. Now, heavy seasonal rains are falling, cutting off the few usable roads, flooding areas where refugees had set up makeshift shelters, and delaying the delivery of relief supplies.

Despite the enormous environmental challenges, UNHCR has so far managed to establish nine camps and relocate the vast majority of the refugees who are willing to move from the volatile border.

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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

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