Central African Republic: UNHCR relocates Sudanese refugees away from volatile border

Briefing Notes, 16 November 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 16 November 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In the Central African Republic, UNHCR and the CAR government began last week the relocation by air of some 3,500 Sudanese refugees from the camp at Sam Ouandja in the country's far northeast to Bambari region in the safer south-central part of the country. This refugee air-lift is taking place over approximately a month, with four daily rotations using 35-seater Dash-8 planes larger planes simply can't land on the short Sam Ouandja airstrip. So far some 500 people have been moved.

Most of the refugees at Sam Ouandja originate from Dafak, a town some 200 kilometers away in Sudan's southern Darfur. They fled on foot in June 2007 to escape fighting and have been at Sam Ouandja ever since, but in conditions that over the past two years have become increasingly difficult.

Two main and related factors have made the move necessary. The first is insecurity. Sam Ouandja lies just 80 kilometers from the border with Darfur in an area with almost no government presence the camp has found itself being frequently visited by fighters. The presence of armed bandits and rebels, and the withdrawal of MINURCAT, the UN peace-keeping mission securing the camp, are further reasons for the move.

Secondly, UNHCR faces extreme logistical difficulties in monitoring and assisting refugees in this remote part of CAR. Poor road conditions have limited our ability to transport aid to the camp. Instead of monthly distributions the food and aid has been delivered every two or three months. During the rainy season, it takes, on average, some ten days for the trucks loaded with aid to cover some 950 kilometres between Bangui and Sam Ouandja.

The new camp lies just outside Bambari, where we have recently opened an office. Bambari is itself some five-hour drive (380 kilometers) north east from the capital Bangui and is significantly more accessible. The camp has ample capacity for the people being moved there. On arrival refugees stay at the transit centre for five days while constructing new family shelters with the kits we provide.

In CAR, UNHCR helps protect and assist some 25,000 Congolese, Chadian and Sudanese refugees and another 192,000 internally displaced persons. The three main groups of concern to us are IDPs in the north and in Haut-Mbomou; the Sudanese refugees now being moved from Sam Ouandja; and refugees in urban areas and Haut-Mbomou.

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Relocation from the Border Country of Burkina Faso

The process of relocating refugees from one site to a safer one is full of challenges. In Burkina Faso, the UN refugee agency has been working with partner organizations and the government to move thousands of Malian refugee families away from border sites like Damba to a safer camp some 100 kilometres to the south. Working under hot and harsh conditions, the aid workers had to dismantle shelters and help people load their belongings onto trucks for the journey. The new site at Mentao is also much easier to access with emergency assistance, including shelter, food, health care and education. These images, taken by photographer Brian Sokol, follow the journey made by Agade Ag Mohammed, a 71-year-old nomad, and his family from Damba to Mentao in March. They fled their home in Gao province last year to escape the violence in Mali, including a massacre that left two of his sons, a brother and five nephews dead. As of mid-April 2013 there were more than 173,000 Malian refugees in neighbouring countries. Within the arid West African nation there are an estimated 260,000 internally displaced people.

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