Skilled Central African workers, students and professionals find shelter in Chad

News Stories, 5 March 2014

© UNHCR/M.Farman-Farmaian
A group of Central African Republic refugees on arrival at N'Djamena after being evacuated from Bangui by aircraft.

N'DJAMENA, Chad, March 5 (UNHCR) In the past three months, the government of Chad has evacuated about 16,000 people to N'Djamena from the Central African Republic amid mounting violence and religious persecution in the neighbouring country.

Most of those brought to the Chad capital have been Chadian nationals or refugees, but more than 1,000 are from the Central African Republic and some other countries, mainly educated people from urban areas. They managed to board flights out of Bangui during the confusion of evacuation. These flights were suspended by Chad on February 20, but people continue to arrive overland.

UNHCR and the National Commission for the Reception and Reintegration of Refugees and Returnees have been interviewing and pre-registering these people at eight transit centres in N'Djamena, including the Transit Centre No. 3 in the city's Paris-Congo area.

"Many have already left, but many have no place to go," said Dario Neloumia, who heads the crowded centre, while adding that it currently hosts about 600 people.

The refugee agency facilitates transfer to refugee camps in southern Chad for those who want it, such as 35-year-old Yaya, who worked for a multinational in Bangui to help put him through a Sociology degree as a mature student. "I have a year to go," said the Central African, a Muslim like most of those who have fled to Chad.

Those who don't want to go to camps like Dosseye near the southern border with Central African Republic can remain in N'Djamena, living with host families or in rented accommodation. The government is considering opening special sites for those who wish to stay but cannot afford to. UNHCR staff monitor all registered refugees.

The conditions in Transit Centre No. 3, or TC3, are not great, but at least the new arrivals feel safe and far away from the violence and danger in Bangui, where hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and many are in need. Several other countries have evacuated their nationals, while UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration have repatriated hundreds of refugees so far this year.

There is a pungent odour of human waste in TC3. Children are everywhere and women sit on straw mats guarding the few possessions they have managed to save: bedding, pots, battered or broken suitcases.

Yaya was able to board one of the evacuation flights by chance after being sent to the airport by his company to help load an air shipment. "There were thousands of people waiting to get on a plane," he recalled. "I was loading luggage and managed to stay on a cargo flight carrying Chadian property from the embassy [in Bangui] back to N'Djamena."

Like many others, Yaya would like to return home one day. "Right now, there is too much hatred and fighting," he said. "I saw a message on Facebook from someone I know at home. It said, 'Now that you Muslims are out, we feel like real Central Africans.' How can we live together like this?"

For now, Yaya has decided to transfer to a camp. "I need to settle first and think things through. I will probably have to come back to N'Djamena to find a job," he said, adding that he would need to earn a living to support himself and members of his extended family, who are expected to arrive in southern Chad soon. His wife is also in N'Djamena, but in a different transit centre, and they hope to reunite in Dosseye camp.

Yaya is one of the many urban educated who have arrived in Chad, adding a new dimension to the profile of the Central African Republic refugee population, which consists largely of farmers and livestock herders in the camps of the south.

Nurses, students, teachers, NGO workers and many others are among those who have recently arrived from Bangui. UNHCR is exploring appropriate ways to assist this group of skilled personnel, including through education and employment opportunities.

"If we seize the opportunity and let refugees put their skills to use, not only will they quickly regain their dignity and independence, but they will also be able to contribute to the development of their new environment," Aminata Gueye, UNHCR's representative in Chad, stressed.

*Name changed for protection reasons.

By Massoumeh Farman-Farmaian in N'Djamena, Chad

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Edwige Deals With Loss by Keeping Busy and Aiding Others in Mole Camp

Edwige Kpomako is a woman in a hurry; but her energy also helps the refugee from Central African Republic (CAR) to cope with the tragedy that forced her to flee to northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last year. Before violence returned to her country in 2012, the 25-year-old was studying for a Masters in American literature in Bangui, and looking forward to the future. "I started my thesis on the works of Arthur Miller, but because of the situation in CAR . . . ," she said, her voice trailing off. Instead, she had to rush to the DRC with a younger brother, but her fiancée and 10-year old son were killed in the inter-communal violence in CAR.

After crossing the Oubangui River to the DRC, Edwige was transferred to Mole, a camp housing more than 13,000 refugees. In a bid to move on with her life and keep busy, she started to help others, assume a leadership role and take part in communal activities, including the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. She heads the women's committee, is engaged in efforts to combat sexual violence, and acts as a liaison officer at the health centre. She also teaches and runs a small business selling face creams. "I discovered that I'm not weak," said Edwige, who remains optimistic. She is sure that her country will come out of its nightmare and rebuild, and that she will one day become a human rights lawyer helping refugees.

American photojournalist Brian Sokol took these photos.

Edwige Deals With Loss by Keeping Busy and Aiding Others in Mole Camp

New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

Since January 2014, a funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations by 60 per cent in refugee camps in southern Chad. The reduction comes as thousands of refugees from Central African Republic (CAR) continue to arrive in the south - more than 14,000 of them since the beginning of 2014. Many arrive sick, malnourished and exhausted after walking for months in the bush with little food or water. They join some 90,000 other CAR refugees already in the south - some of them for years.

The earlier refugees have been able to gain some degree of self-reliance through agriculture or employment, thus making up for some of the food cuts. But the new arrivals, fleeing the latest round of violence in their homeland, are facing a much harsher reality. And many of them - particularly children - will struggle to survive because WFP has also been forced cut the supplemental feeding programmes used to treat people trying to recover from malnutrition.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

Photojournalist Corentin Fohlen and UNHCR Public Information Officer Céline Schmitt visited CAR refugees in southern Chad to document their plight and how they're trying to cope.

New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

A funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations in refugee camps in eastern Chad by up to 60 per cent. As a result, Sudanese refugees in 13 camps in the east now receive about 850 calories per day, down from the minimum ration of 2,100 calories daily they used to get. The refugees are finding it difficult to cope. Clinics in the area report a significant spike in malnutrition cases, with rates as high as 19.5 per cent in Am Nabak camp.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

In the meantime, the refugees experiencing ration cuts have few options. Poor soil quality, dry conditions and little access to water mean they can't plant supplemental crops as refugees in the less arid south of Chad are able to do. To try to cope, many refugee women in eastern Chad are leaving the camps in search of work in surrounding towns. They clean houses, do laundry, fetch water and firewood and work as construction labourers. Even so, they earn very little and often depend on each other for support. In the town of Iriba, for example, some 50 refugee women sleep rough each night under a tree and share their some of their meagre earnings to pay for a daily, communal meal.

They are also subject to exploitation. Sometimes, their temporary employers refuse to pay them at the end of the day. And some women and girls have resorted to prostitution to earn money to feed their families.

Ration cuts can have an impact far beyond health, reverberating through the entire community. It is not uncommon for children to be pulled out of school on market days in order to work. Many refugees use a portion of their food rations to barter for other essentials, or to get cash to pay school fees or buy supplies for their children. Small business owners like butchers, hairdressers and tailors - some of them refugees - also feel the pinch.

WFP supplies food to some 240,500 Sudanese refugees in the camps of eastern Chad. Many have been in exile for years and, because of their limited opportunities for self-sufficiency, remain almost totally dependent on outside help. The ration cuts have made an already difficult situation much worse for refugees who were already struggling.

Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

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