High Commissioner Guterres to visit Chad among growing insecurity
GENEVA, December 19 (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is scheduled to leave Geneva on Wednesday on a two-day mission to Chad amid a recent deterioration in the security situation in the east of the country, where tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees and displaced Chadians are living in fear of imminent attacks.
In N'Djamena on Thursday, Guterres is expected to meet President Idriss Deby and other senior officials to discuss the dire humanitarian situation facing some 232,000 Darfur refugees and 90,000 displaced Chadians as well as another 48,000 Central African Republic refugees in the south. He will also hold talks with several members of the diplomatic community in N'Djamena.
On Friday, he will travel to the east of the country to meet with refugees, recently displaced Chadians, UNHCR staff and other aid workers trying to cope with one of the world's most difficult and urgent humanitarian crises.
Over the past three years, UNHCR has established a dozen remote refugee camps for tens of thousands of Darfurians scattered along a 600-kilometre stretch of eastern Chad near the border with Sudan.
"From the start, that task has been extremely difficult because of the desolate terrain, lack of resources and infrastructure, and the continuing displacement from Darfur," chief UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond, said in Geneva on Tuesday. "But now we're also facing the prospect of spreading insecurity within eastern Chad itself as the Darfur conflict threatens to engulf the region," he added at a regular press briefing.
In the last 12 months, 90,000 Chadians have themselves been displaced by marauding groups of armed men on camels and horseback whose tactics mirror those of the janjaweed Arab militia across the border in Darfur.
In the latest deadly episode of inter-ethnic fighting, attacks last Friday and Saturday in the Koukou Angarana area of south-eastern Chad left about 30 people dead, including villagers, refugees and people already displaced by earlier fighting. Another 30 people were wounded in the attacks, which took place in villages close to the Goz Amer refugee camp, UNHCR staff report.
Government forces countered the attack in heavy fighting around the village of Habile, which is also the site of a makeshift camp for internally displaced Chadians. A total of 22 villagers and internally displaced Chadians were killed in the Habile fighting Saturday, and 93 homes were burned.
Chadian authorities say they will remain to keep the area secure. With the attacks so close to the Goz Amer camp, which has more than 18,000 residents, the refugees are tense and concerned for their security. They are afraid to work their fields.
UNHCR has received reports that 5,000 of the 9,000 internally displaced Chadians at Habile site, fearing for their safety, are moving towards Koukou Angarana village even though the situation there is equally tense. Some 50 humanitarian workers in the area have been temporarily located to Goz Beida until the situation calms down.
More than 70 villages have been attacked, burned or emptied since early November. In late November, UNHCR lost more than US$1 million worth of aid supplies looted from its main warehouse in Abéché following clashes there between the government and rebel forces.
The volatile and deteriorating security situation, which has led to UNHCR working on a skeleton staff basis in six of the 12 refugee camps in the east since late November, is of critical concern to the High Commissioner, Redmond said.
"During his mission, Guterres will be stressing the fragility of the vital humanitarian lifeline in eastern Chad and seeking ways to strengthen it and protect the hundreds of thousands of victims of violence in the region," the spokesman added.
In another development, a joint mission by representatives of UNHCR, the Chadian government and the World Food Programme (WFP) returned on Monday from a five-day initial technical mission to the Kanem and Bet region of Chad to evaluate the suitability of alternative refugee camp sites.
The government earlier this month proposed new sites some 500 kms from N'Djamena and 500 kms from the eastern border with Sudan. The mission visited some 12 sites around Moussoro, Salal, Kouba-Oulanga and Koro-Toro. The results of their assessment are expected in the coming days.