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UNHCR expresses growing concern over affects of Chad unrest on refugees

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UNHCR expresses growing concern over affects of Chad unrest on refugees

4 February 2008

4 February 2008

GENEVA - A UNHCR team was rushing Monday to the Cameroon border opposite the strife-torn Chadian capital of N'Djamena amid reports that thousands of residents were fleeing fighting in the city.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres appealed to all sides in the Chadian conflict to respect humanitarian principles and voiced growing concern over the fate of hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people throughout the country.

UNHCR and its partners operate 12 large refugee camps in eastern Chad with some 240,000 Sudanese refugees who have fled Sudan's neighbouring Darfur region. Another 50,000 refugees from the Central African Republic are in camps in southern Chad. In addition, UNHCR is involved in providing help to some of the 180,000 Chadians who have been displaced internally by earlier unrest in Chad.

"Hundreds of thousands of uprooted people in Chad depend on international support and a very fragile aid lifeline that must reach some of the most desolate and isolated parts of the country," High Commissioner Guterres said in Paris. "We are continuing to assist, but insecurity is forcing us to relocate some staff and threatens to severely affect the flow of life-saving aid to these very vulnerable populations. We urgently appeal to all sides to respect humanitarian principles and to halt the violence. These refugees and displaced people have suffered enough."

Nearly all UNHCR staff have been evacuated from N'Djamena amid continuing fighting in and around the city, but staff continue to work in most of the eastern camps. UNHCR field workers who visited some of the eastern camps on Sunday reported that the refugees were extremely worried by the unrest and relieved to see that aid workers were still in the region. A series of armed attacks on UNHCR and other aid agencies forced an evacuation of most staff from the eastern town of Guéréda last week.

In neighbouring Cameroon, UNHCR staff were expected to arrive in the border town of Kousséri on Monday afternoon to assess a reported influx of thousands of Chadians who had entered the country after fleeing N'Djamena, on the opposite bank of the Chari River. Local officials told UNHCR that "thousands" of Chadians had fled the city and were crossing into the Kousséri area via 15 crossing points. The Cameroon Red Cross had re-opened a former reception centre in Kousséri and the UNHCR team would also re-open the agency's former field office in the town.

Two UNHCR trucks carrying aid supplies are also being sent from Bertoua, in eastern Cameroon, where UNHCR already operates to assist 45,000 CAR refugees. The journey will take at least two days. The refugee agency is also considering an airlift of more aid supplies from its stockpiles elsewhere in the world - possibly from Dubai or Copenhagen.