Civilians fleeing clashes in CAR moved to Chad refugee camp

Briefing Notes, 7 May 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 7 May 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In a remote southern part of Chad, we began this week the transfer of some 1,100 newly arrived Central African refugees from the border to a refugee camp where we can assist them. These refugees crossed into southern Chad's Moyen Chari province two weeks ago, after violence forced them from villages in northern Central African Republic (CAR).

The refugees fled clashes between the CAR army and rebels in Sido area from where they walked some 60 kilometres before reaching the Chadian border. We are relocating them to the Moula camp some 180 km further southwest. We moved the first group of 204 refugees on Wednesday and we plan to complete the transfer by early next week. Because of poor road conditions, it takes our convoys an entire day to reach Moula, which currently holds more than 4,000 Central Africans.

Most of the newly arrived refugees are women, children and young men. They reported to our staff that the fighters were looting, stealing animals and abusing civilians. Two refugee men showed our staff rope burns on their elbows. Some among the group are traumatized and say that they are not ready to return to CAR. They also reported that their villages were virtually empty by the time they fled.

The ongoing army offensive in the Sido area has been under way since mid-April. We don't have figures for the total number of people displaced, but in the last few days we've had reports of new displacement of around 2,500 civilians. About 1,000 of these have reached a site for internally displaced persons in the town of Kabo, 400 kilometers north of the CAR capital, Bangui. They lack water, food and shelter, although some are living with relatives. Others are hiding in the bush and more could try to cross into Chad.

Insecurity in northern CAR over the past five years has left close to 200,000 people internally displaced in the seven prefectures of the north-western, northern and north-eastern regions of CAR. A similar number has fled to neighboring countries.

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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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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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Canada: Light Years Ahead

With help from the Government of Canada, lives of refugees in Chad and Ethiopia have been transformed through the Light Years Ahead project.
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.