Thousands flee attacks in Central African Republic; seek shelter in Chad

UNHCR visits thousands of Central African Republic refugees sheltering in south-eastern Chad after fleeing attacks by rebel groups in recent weeks.

Some of the refugees at Daha in Chad after fleeing their villages in Central African Republic.   © UNHCR/M.Baiwong

ABECHE, Chad, January 30 (UNHCR) - More than 4,500 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) have recently arrived in south-eastern Chad after fleeing attacks by rebel groups. Many said they feared further fighting between government forces and rebels in the northern part of CAR.

The UN refugee agency took part Wednesday in a joint UN humanitarian mission to the Chadian village of Daha and met many of the refugees, mainly women and children. They had crossed the nearby border from CAR in two waves since late last month.

The team found that a first group of about 200 local government workers fled across the border into Chad after their village in the Ngarba area was attacked by rebels in late December.

The second group of more than 4,300 people fled their villages on January 16-17, fearing imminent fighting between the CAR armed forces and the rebels. The refugees told UNHCR that they believed the rebel group was still controlling their home area, making it unsafe for them to return.

The new arrivals are mostly from farming families and originate from about 20 villages close to northern CAR's border with Chad. They seemed to be in good health, but are forced to live in the open under trees. Twelve refugee babies have been born over the past two weeks in Daha.

The refugees, who arrived with nothing, are in desperate need of food and other assistance. All reserves in the local health centre are depleted and there is no food left in the market. Residents of Daha, which has a population of 4,000, have shared some of their food and water. "We will certainly assist this group with emergency aid and provide them with plastic sheeting and basic non-food items as soon as possible," said Serge Male, UNHCR's representative in Chad.

UNHCR will assist the refugees with emergency aid and provide them with plastic sheeting and other basic aid items as soon as possible. A major challenge is simply reaching such a remote area.

It took three hours for the assessment mission to reach Daha from Abéché in eastern Chad aboard a UN peace-keeping helicopter. Once the rainy season starts in May, roads will become impassable and the refugees will be cut off.

In a separate development, the security situation in Abéché has been deteriorating over the past two weeks. UNHCR and other UN agencies based there have suffered multiple attacks by small groups of armed bandits. There have been three attacks on the houses of UNHCR staff members and three on the UNHCR compound. No one has been hurt in the attacks. No one has been arrested.

In eastern Chad, UNHCR provides assistance to 250,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur, in 12 refugee camps. In the south, there are five UNHCR camps hosting 56,000 refugees from the CAR.

By Annette Rehrl in Abéché, Chad