UNHCR registers thousands of refugees from Central African Republic

News Stories, 12 February 2009

© UNHCR/V.Ndakass
Makeshift shelters of the newly arrived refugees from Central African Republic in Daha, south-eastern Chad.

ABECHE, Chad, February 12 (UNHCR) A small UNHCR team has been helping the authorities in south-eastern Chad to register thousands of refugees from neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) and to assess their needs. The refugee agency also distributed aid.

Some 6,000 civilians, mostly women and children from the Rounga and Sara tribes, have fled to Chad since December to escape attacks by rebel groups and fighting between the rebels and CAR government forces. Most are now stranded in and around the village of Daha, just one kilometre from the Chad-CAR border.

A convoy organized by UNHCR and other humanitarian aid agencies, including the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), left for Daha from the town of Abéché late last week and arrived on Monday.

On Tuesday, the four UNHCR members of the mission began to register the refugees and to distribute assistance, including cooking utensils and shelter material, including plastic sheeting, mats, mosquito nets and blankets, which will protect them from the wind and cold at might. Most of the refugees have been sleeping out in the open. WFP handed out food rations for three weeks.

The team has also been assessing the immediate needs of the refugees. These included the provision of a steady supply of potable water, the construction of proper latrines and the immunization of children under the age of five against measles and polio. Five refugee children have died of unknown causes, while two women have died while giving birth.

A UNHCR emergency team from Geneva is expected to arrive in Daha on Friday to continue interviewing the refugees and organizing relief assistance. However, the remoteness of Daha, which is situated almost 1,000 kilometres south of Abéché, remains a major logistical constraint.

The UN refugee agency is awaiting a decision from the Chadian government on proposals to move the new arrivals to a safer location with easier access for humanitarian agencies. The likeliest site for a new camp is in the area of Am Timan, some 280 km north of Daha.

Many of the refugees interviewed by UNHCR were still traumatized by their experience and not ready to go back. Hawoua said she had taken one of her children to visit her brother in Ngarba village, when the rebels arrived and started looting houses. "We fled the same night, but we were separated [from my brother]. Now I'm all alone here with my child," said the 20-year-old, adding that she was worried about her husband and two other children back in CAR.

Alime, another refugee from the Ngarba, crossed into Chad about two weeks ago with three daughters and the clothes on her back. "The rebels killed five of my family members. Our village is left in ashes, we can't go back," she said.

North-eastern CAR has been unstable for several years and there have been several waves of refugees crossing into Chad over the past six years. The UN refugee helps some 52,000 of them in five camps in southern Chad. UNHCR also runs 12 camps in eastern Chad that house quarter-of-a-million refugees from Sudan's Darfur region. There are also more than 160,000 internally displaced Chadians.

By Victorien Ndakass in Daha and Annette Rehrl in Abéché, Chad




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The recording, verifying, and updating of information on people of concern to UNHCR so they can be protected and UNHCR can ultimately find durable solutions.

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.

Posted on 21 February 2008

Crisis in the Central African Republic

Battling the Elements in Chad

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.

Battling the Elements in Chad

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

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Joint Appeal: Help Needed for Central African Refugees

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UNHCR's Dr. Paul Spiegel on the Border of CAR  and CameroonPlay video

UNHCR's Dr. Paul Spiegel on the Border of CAR and Cameroon

This video was shot by one of our staff* using a mobile phone as they helped refugees who had crossed the river to safety.