Displacement from deteriorating security in eastern Chad tops 100,000
ABECHE, Chad, January 5 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said Friday that the deteriorating security situation in eastern Chad had resulted in the displacement of up to 20,000 Chadians over the past two weeks and was posing a direct threat to refugee camps housing thousands of Sudanese from neighbouring Darfur.
More than 100,000 Chadians are now displaced within their own country, which already hosts some 230,000 Darfur refugees in 12 UNHCR camps spread across the east of Chad.
While there has been a decrease in conflict between the Chadian army and opposition forces since the recent visit of UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in late December, the level of inter-communal violence in several regions of the east has reached new levels.
"This ongoing violence is threatening the lives and well-being of tens of thousands of Chadians and Sudanese refugees throughout the region," said Serge Malé, UNHCR's representative in Chad.
The latest wave of violence over the past two weeks has resulted in the displacement of an estimated 20,000 Chadians. More than 10,000 of them fled their homes following cross-border attacks by alleged Janjaweed militia in the region of Borota. Another 10,000 from more than 20 villages have fled inter-communal hostilities and are now gathered in the village of Gassiré, 8 km north of the town of Goz Beida. Efforts are currently underway to determine the exact numbers and needs of these Chadians. Humanitarian agencies, which were already struggling to provide assistance with reduced staff in the wake of rising insecurity, are now finding themselves stretched beyond their capacities.
"Resources are simply insufficient to meet the overwhelming needs," Malé said. "We only have the means of addressing the humanitarian consequences of this tragedy, and not the underlying causes, which are beyond the mandate and capacity of humanitarian agencies."
Malé reiterated High Commissioner Guterres' call for an international initiative towards improving the security situation in eastern Chad.
Rampant insecurity that has prevailed in the region of Koukou, 45 km south-east of Goz Beida, has worsened in the last fortnight. The Goz Amir refugee camp, 8 km south-east of Koukou, is coming under direct threat of attack, creating panic among the 19,000 Darfur refugees residing there. Several frightened refugees have already left the site, heading towards Goz Beida.
The capacity of the Goz Beida region to absorb so many displaced is also being pushed beyond limits. The town of a few thousand people and its surrounding region are now hosting more than 30,000 internally displaced Chadians - 17,000 of whom have arrived since the end of November - as well as more than 15,000 Darfur refugees in UNHCR's Djabal camp. Groundwater supplies meant to provide for some 25,000 people are now catering for more than 55,000 refugees, IDPs and local populations. Likewise, firewood supplies are coming under greater strain with the arrival of the cold season.
Meanwhile, amid deteriorating security conditions in north-eastern Chad, two Sudanese refugees were shot to death on Thursday in Kounoungou camp, near Guéréda. A third refugee - a mother in her ninth month of pregnancy - was wounded by a bullet in her arm when she tried to come to the assistance of the other two refugees, members of her family. In the same region, inter-communal violence between ethnic groups has left at least 40 people wounded. The death toll is yet to be determined.
Investigations are underway to determine those responsible for the Kounoungou camp shootings, while efforts have been undertaken by authorities to try to control a situation which threatens to quickly spiral out of control.
Chadian gendarmes responsible for providing security in and around the 12 eastern camps for Darfur refugees from Sudan complain that they are too few in number and too poorly equipped to be effective.
By Matthew Conway in Abéché, Chad