UNHCR condemns killing of government partner in eastern Chad

News Stories, 27 October 2009

© UNHCR/H.Caux
Young refugees from Sudan's Darfur region at a camp in eastern Chad, where refugee official Michel Mitna was killed.

GENEVA, October 27 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday expressed shock at the ambush and killing of a Chadian official working for UNHCR's government counterpart in the volatile east of the country. Michel Mitna, head of the Guereda office of Chad's national refugee commission, was shot dead by bandits on Saturday.

Mitna worked daily with UNHCR to protect and assist refugees and internally displaced people in camps near the dusty town of Guereda. He was about 110 kilometres north-east of Abeche, the main town in eastern Chad, when his clearly marked vehicle was attacked. His driver was injured and the unidentified gunmen managed to escape.

The 40-year-old Mitna leaves behind a wife and five children. He had worked in eastern Chad for the Commission National d'Accueil et de Réinsertion des Réfugiés (CNAR) for six years. As a mark of solidarity and condolence, UNHCR staff in Guereda did not work on Monday.

"UNHCR is deeply shocked and saddened by this tragic killing," UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday. "This is the 51st armed attack on a humanitarian vehicle in eastern Chad this year alone, 31 of which belonged to UNHCR and its partners," he added.

Last week, five staff working for Première Urgence, a French NGO that works with UNHCR in Farchana Camp, were kidnapped while travelling in convoy. The bandits only freed the staff when their hijacked vehicle was involved in an accident. Two of the five aid workers are still in hospital.

Humanitarian workers in eastern Chad constantly face security threats while working to alleviate the plight of tens of thousands of civilians who fled generalized violence and conflict. Armed banditry is the greatest security threat for aid workers in this area neighbouring the Darfur region of Sudan.

In spite of the security constraints, UNHCR has been working with CNAR and many international humanitarian agencies in eastern Chad to assist some 250,000 Sudanese refugees in 12 camps since 2003, as well as 160,000 internally displaced Chadians since 2006.

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Nearly 200,000 refugees, the majority of them women and children, have fled across the border from Sudan into Chad since the outbreak of conflict in Sudan's Darfur region in March 2003. The refugees have left behind their homes and often loved ones in Darfur, where militias have reportedly killed and raped villagers, looted and burned houses and possessions and driven people from their homes.

Most of the refugees in eastern Chad are sheltered in 11 camps established by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, where they receive humanitarian aid, shelter, water and basic services.

Life in the camps is not easy in the desert environment of eastern Chad, where water and firewood are extremely scarce. Sandstorms are a regular feature during the dry months and torrential rains flood the landscape in the wet season.

Yet in the faces of the refugees, dignity and hope remain in spite of the hardships and the violence they have suffered.

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