Chamberlin concludes Sudan/Chad trip
TOULOUM CAMP, Chad, April 22 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency's acting chief, Wendy Chamberlin, has ended her five-day mission to Sudan and Chad after consulting Sudanese refugees in Chad on their needs while in exile.
On Friday, the Acting High Commissioner left for Geneva from the Chadian capital, N'Djamena, after meeting with United States Ambassador Marc Wall.
She had travelled to eastern Chad's Touloum camp the day before to talk to refugees from Sudan's Darfur region. "I wanted to see with my own eyes and hear the stories directly from the refugees," said Chamberlin on her first visit to eastern Chad.
Touloum camp is one of 11 UNHCR camps in eastern Chad that together house some 200,000 Sudanese refugees who had fled the conflict in Darfur. The camp opened in February last year and mainly received refugees who had crossed the border in the Tine and Birak areas. Touloum now counts more than 21,000 refugees and it looks like most of the refugee camps in eastern Chad: tents covered with sand, children running around, women waiting with their jerry cans to collect water from the boreholes, goats and donkeys searching for food in the sandy soil.
Women and children represent at least 80 percent of the refugee population in the camps in eastern Chad. The men sometimes go back to the border area in order to take care of the cattle or to check on their land and remaining properties in Darfur.
Anticipating Chamberlin's visit on Thursday, the refugees in Touloum lined up under the sun - the women wearing bright-coloured dresses and scarves, while the men were dressed in white tunics. When she arrived, the Acting High Commissioner sat down with them on colourful traditional mats and listened to their concerns.
Most of the refugees' requests focused on improving their daily lives, especially for their children. "We want more food, water, firewood and also education for our children, high schools even," the refugee leaders told her.
Chamberlin compared what she heard in Touloum with the testimonies she had heard from displaced people in Darfur, where she spent the first part of her mission talking to some of the 1.8 million internally displaced people. "Your concerns are the same as people who stayed in Darfur - food, water, firewood and education," she said. "In Darfur the security is also a major concern."
Before leaving Touloum, Chamberlin promised the refugee leaders that UNHCR will do everything possible to help the refugees when they decide it is safe enough to return to Sudan. "We, too, look forward to the day you can return to Darfur," she said.
By Ginette Le Breton in eastern Chad