Cameroon: UNHCR flies in relief supplies for Chadians

Briefing Notes, 8 February 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 February 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A UNHCR-chartered Ilyushin-76 cargo plane is expected to land this morning in Garoua, 800 km north of Yaoundé, Cameroon, with 45 tonnes of relief items the first of two flights this week that will deliver aid supplies for 14,000 people. The cargo includes plastic sheeting, blankets, jerry cans and cooking sets which will be transported by truck tomorrow to Kousséri to assist the thousands of Chadian refugees who fled N'Djamena, the Chad capital, since last Saturday. The second flight is scheduled to take place over the weekend and will bring an additional 45 tonnes of relief items.

An estimated 30,000 fled the fighting earlier this week in N'Djamena and have found refuge in the Kousséri area on the other side of the Chari River. Our teams in Kousséri have observed that there have been a lot of back-and-forth movements in the past two days, but it is too early to say if people are going back to their homes in Chad permanently. Some people are crossing back to spend the day in N'Djamena, checking on their properties and then going back to spend the night in Kousséri. Others have returned to their homes in N'Djamena, but left their families behind in Kousséri.

By the end of the day today, UNHCR will have 16 staff in Kousséri. The UNHCR team has started to set up emergency facilities in Madana transit site, close to the bridge linking Chad to Cameroon. The site presently hosts between 7,000 to 10,000 Chadian refugees. This morning (Friday), together with the Red Cross, we began work on sanitation facilities in the transit site. Together with the World Food Programme, we are planning a food distribution for up to 30,000 people on Saturday. Rations will include beans, rice and cooking oil.

Two UNHCR trucks containing 12 tonnes of relief items arrived on Wednesday and Thursday in Kousséri from eastern Cameroon. On Sunday, we are planning to distribute relief items including blankets, jerry cans, buckets, and soap. This relief assistance will be distributed to the refugees in Madana as well as to another group being hosted in schools in the city.

In Kousséri, UNHCR is the lead agency coordinating humanitarian relief for the Chadian refugees, working with the World Food Programme and UNICEF as well as non-UN agencies which include the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.

In N'Djamena, the situation was calm this morning but the streets remain empty and very few shops are opened. UNHCR local staff who remained in N'Djamena are starting to collect UNHCR tents which were looted from our warehouse and later abandoned by looters in the streets. UNHCR's office in the capital was not touched.

In eastern Chad, we and our partners are continuing to provide protection and assistance to 240,000 Sudanese refugees in 12 camps and 180,000 internally displaced Chadians. UNHCR has essential teams in our operational base in Abéché and our six field offices. Food distribution in refugee camps has been carried out and refugee committees kept up to date on the current situation.

We are however, very alarmed by the sudden jump in armed banditry in refugee camps during which two local gendarmes guarding the camps in Farchana and Bahai were killed this week. In the latest incident on Thursday, a gendarme at the northernmost Oure Cassoni camp in Bahai, was shot dead by two unknown intruders while attempting to steal a vehicle. Vehicles theft appears to be the main aim of the bandits.

In order to guarantee the smooth running of our operations and avoid supply shortages in the east, we need a humanitarian air corridor set up between Abéché, the capital N'Djamena and the region.

Despite difficulties caused by the recent conflict, in the south we are still providing assistance to nearly 7,400 newly arrive refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) who fled over the last five weeks. The refugees will soon be moved to one of the four refugee camps in southern Chad, where 45,000 CAR refugees live.

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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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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.

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