News Stories, 5 March 2004
ABECHE, Chad, March 5 (UNHCR) – French crooner Julien Clerc has returned from a three-day visit to eastern Chad, completing his first mission as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in an intense first step in his long-term commitment to humanitarian work.
During his time there, the Goodwill Ambassador met with some of the 110,000 Sudanese refugees who had arrived in the remote desert of eastern Chad after fleeing fighting in western Sudan's Darfur region.
"Despite very harsh living conditions and the trauma of what they went through, they had a lot of dignity," Clerc said of the refugees he met Tuesday at Mahamata, just a few hundred metres from the insecure Chad-Sudan border. Because of regular militia incursions to steal their cattle, these refugees are currently being moved to camps further inland, where they can enjoy better security and assistance.
On Wednesday, Clerc travelled to Touloum, near the town of Iriba, where UNHCR has set up a camp to receive refugees gathered around the border town of Tine. More than 4,800 people have been transferred to Touloum so far. UNHCR staff guided the Goodwill Ambassador through the site, and explained the process that newly-transferred refugees must go through – disembarking from the trucks, undergoing registration, and receiving food and plastic sheeting to build their own shelters. Clerc also saw food and water distribution at Touloum and was shown a newly-dug water well on the site.
He listened closely as the refugees told him about the attacks on their villages in Sudan and their flight to safety in Chad. He then went on to the transit centre in Kounoungo further to the south, where 291 refugees had just arrived earlier that day. There are presently 1,902 persons in Kounoungo.
Throughout his mission, Clerc was accompanied by a television crew from the show, "Envoyé Spécial", and by a team from the French Association for UNHCR. His visit coincided with a mission to the region by High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers. They met up on several occasions during their visit and shared their impressions on the refugee situation and UNHCR's efforts to help them.
"I did not really know how the UN and UN agencies such as UNHCR worked. I was impressed with the professionalism of the staff in the field," said Clerc after his time in the border region.
"I knew that there were people suffering in the world through the multitude of images like this on television. But I used to watch the images somewhat distractedly. I was always dubious of getting involved, in whichever topic, I am always careful to not be used or manipulated."
Clerc, a popular singer-songwriter in France and francophone countries, said he had been thinking about getting involved with humanitarian work for some time now, and had worked on specific projects with UNHCR for two years before being named as the agency's Goodwill Ambassador last October.
"With UNHCR, I am now undertaking a long-term humanitarian commitment for the first time," said Clerc. "I made the decision after meeting with people who are deeply involved, both physically and intellectually, in the humanitarian world. I wanted in my own way to contribute, to add a stone to the structure. I truly wanted to do some good. I have had the good fortune to live thanks to music, to have been born in a rich country. Getting involved with UNHCR is a way for me to give back some of what life has offered me."