Deputy High Commissioner in Chad
Deputy High Commissioner L. Craig Johnstone tonight ends a 3½-day mission to Chad, most of it spent in the east of the country where UNHCR operates a dozen refugee camps for some 240,000 uprooted Sudanese from the strife-torn Darfur region. Johnstone travelled to several camps throughout the east, for refugees as well as some of the 180,000 Chadians displaced by conflict in their country.
He arrived in Abéché, eastern Chad, on Saturday after a four-day visit to Sudan, including the Darfur region. On Saturday, he visited an Abéché orphanage where 103 children at the centre of an alleged attempted abduction are currently being housed. Johnstone said it was urgent that the children be reunited with their families as soon as possible. Although well cared for, it was obvious the children miss their families and need to be returned quickly to avoid any further trauma.
Johnstone met the 82 young boys, including a year-old infant, as well as 21 girls. The children range in age from one to 10, with the majority between three and five. They are being cared for by Action Sociale - a Chadian group - and UNHCR, the Chadian Red Cross, UNICEF and a team of local volunteers.
Some parents of the children, who claim they had never been told their children would be taken to France by the NGO Children Rescue/Arche de Zoe, have travelled to Abéché from towns along the border with Sudan and are desperate to be reunited with their children.
Johnstone said he recognised the process of tracing the rightful families had to be accurate and that it took time, but that once parents and families were identified, the reunion should be swift in the best interests of the young children. The Chadian authorities are still discussing how the methods for reuniting the families will take place.
Johnstone also met with the Governor of the Ouaddai region of eastern Chad, Général Touka Ramadan, who told him of the anger of the local population over the alleged abduction. The governor also stressed that the ongoing work of humanitarian organisations to help the 240,000 refugees in the east of the country and the 180,000 conflict displaced Chadians was vital and that traditional, religious and community leaders were talking to the local population to help calm feelings which have been running high.
On Sunday, Johnstone flew south to Goz Beida to review UNHCR's operations in the area where a large concentration of refugees from Darfur are living almost alongside Chadians displaced by brutal inter-ethnic conflict. Altogether, 90,000 displaced people in the area need assistance along with 35,000 refugees.
Yesterday (Monday) Johnstone flew to the northern Bahai area, where he visited the northern most refugee camp in Chad, Oure Cassoni, close to the border with Sudan. Some 28,000 refugees are in Oure Cassoni.
He arrived in N'Djamena, Chad's capital, last night and is meeting today with several government officials, UN partners, members of the diplomatic community and UNHCR staff before returning to Geneva.