UNHCR distributes first identity cards to Sudanese refugees in Chad

UNHCR begins a programme to distribute identity cards to some 110,000 Sudanese refugees over the age of 18 living in camps in eastern Chad.

Sudanese refugee women show their joy by performing a traditional Darfurian dance.  © UNHCR/A.Rehrl

ABÉCHÉ, Chad, June 2 (UNHCR) - UNHCR has begun a programme to distribute identity cards to some 110,000 Sudanese refugees over the age of 18 living in camps in eastern Chad. The ID cards are the equivalent of a refugee passport, allowing free movement within the host country and providing access to some basic rights in line with the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention.

UNHCR distributed the first 10 ID cards in a symbolic and carnival-like ceremony on Monday in Gaga refugee camp, near the eastern Chad city of Abeche, together with local authorities and the Chadian government's refugee commission. The ID cards, which are printed by UNHCR and issued by the government of Chad, were warmly welcomed by the refugees who said that they now feel protected and fully accepted in Chad.

"We are very moved. This is the best day for us since we arrived as refugees in Chad. It gives us the feeling that now we have the right to live [here]," said Oumar, a refugee leader. "This card gives me an identity. I feel recognized as a refugee and now I feel really protected and safe," added another refugee, Fatima.

Preparations for this joint initiative have been under way since the end of 2006. Identity and age verification exercises in all 12 UNHCR-run camps in eastern Chad, hosting some 250,000 refugees from Sudan's Darfur region, were initially scheduled to start last year. However, due to lasting insecurity in eastern Chad, these activities began only in April this year. So far, UNHCR has processed some 37,000 refugees in Gaga and Farchana camps.

The refugee agency plans to distribute all 110,000 ID cards by the end of this year, provided that the verification process is not interrupted again. Since the latest Chadian rebel incursion on May 4, regular daily access to refugee camps is still problematic due to security restrictions. For example, humanitarian convoys to Oure Cassoni refugee camp near Bahai had to be temporarily suspended last Friday after an aircraft bombed an area some 2 kilometres from the camp, which is close to the Sudanese border.

Meanwhile, refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) continue to arrive in small groups in the village of Daha, in south-eastern Chad's Salamat region, as well as in the vicinity of Danamadji in southern Chad. They fled their homes fearing new confrontations between rebel groups and the CAR army.

Some 17,000 CAR refugees have found shelter in six spontaneous sites which sprung up in Daha and Massambagne villages since mid-January. In southern Chad, UNHCR cares for 73,000 refugees hosted in five refugee camps and six spontaneous sites.

UNHCR teams in this part of Chad provide protection and emergency assistance. The agency also continues to distribute shelter material and household items to newly arrived families. UNHCR supports the work of the local health centre.

Together with partner agencies, UNHCR has ensured that refugees have access to education and clean water and has built latrines. From mid-June, when the rainy season will start, the CAR refugees in south-east Chad will be cut off from assistance as it will be physically impossible to reach them.

By Annette Rehrl in Abéché, Chad