Influx of Central African Republic refugees to eastern Chad

Briefing Notes, 30 January 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 30 January 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

More than 4,500 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) have recently arrived in south-eastern Chad fleeing attacks from rebel groups and in anticipation of further fighting between government forces and rebels in the northern part of the country.

On Wednesday, a joint UN humanitarian mission supported by the UN peacekeeping force MINURCAT and EUFOR visited the Chadian village of Daha near the CAR border.

Most of the new refugees are women and children. They arrived in Daha in two waves a first group of about 200 local government workers who left their villages out of fear after rebels invaded their village in the Ngarba area in late December. The second group of over 4,000 people fled their villages on January 16-17 in anticipation of imminent attacks between CAR governmental forces and rebels. The refugees told us that they believe the rebel group is still controlling the area, making it unsafe for them to return.

The new arrivals are mostly farmers and originate from about 20 villages in northern CAR close to the Chadian border. They seemed to be in good health. Twelve refugee babies have been born over the past two weeks in Daha. The refugees, who arrived with nothing, are in desperate need of food and other assistance. All reserves in the local health centre are depleted and there is no food left in the market. Residents of Daha, which has about 4,000 residents, have shared some of their food and water. The refugees are staying under trees, sleeping in the open.

UNHCR will assist the refugees with emergency aid and provide them with plastic sheeting and other basic aid items as soon as possible. A major challenge is simply reaching such a remote area. On Wednesday, it took 3 hours by MINURCAT helicopter from UNHCR's main base in Abéché, eastern Chad. Once the rainy season starts in May, roads will become impassable and the refugees will be inaccessible.

In another worrisome development, the security situation in Abéché has been seriously deteriorating over the past two weeks. UNHCR and other UN agencies based there have suffered multiple attacks by small groups of armed bandits. There have been three attacks on the houses of UNHCR staff members and three on the UNHCR compound. No one has been hurt in the attacks. No one has been arrested.

In eastern Chad, we provide assistance to 250,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur, in 12 refugee camps. In the south, there are five UNHCR camps hosting 56,000 refugees from the CAR.

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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

Joint Appeal: Help Needed for Central African RefugeesPlay video

Joint Appeal: Help Needed for Central African Refugees

The UN refugee agency and its partners appealed for more donor support to cope with the continuing outflow and deteriorating condition of refugees from the Central African Republic.
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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.