People fleeing across Chad/Sudan border in both directions a disturbing development, says UNHCR
EL GENEINA, West Darfur, Feb 28 (UNHCR) - In a new and disturbing development reflecting the spreading insecurity along the troubled Chad-Sudan frontier region, UNHCR is now seeing population movements in both directions across the border.
"In addition to the more than 200,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur who have sought refuge in eastern Chad in the past three years, we're now seeing indications that some Chadians are themselves fleeing in the opposite direction, to Darfur," UN refugee agency spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told journalists at the regular Tuesday press briefing in Geneva.
In the past months, UNHCR High Commissioner António Guterres has repeatedly expressed deep concern over the potential for further destabilisation in the region if the security situation does not improve.
In West Darfur, between 8,000 and 10,000 people, including an undetermined number of Chadians, have gathered in five makeshift camps around the villages of Galu and Azaza, about 35 km north-west of El Geneina, the region's main city.
"Initial assessments by UNHCR and its partners indicate the spontaneous sites have grown over the past two months following a bloody attack on the Chadian border town of Adré last December," Pagonis said.
In interviews with UNHCR last Sunday, the Chadians said a rebel attack on the Chad town of Adré on December 18 was the trigger that pushed them to flee across the border to Darfur.
More than 100 people were reported killed in Adré during the fighting between rebel forces and the Chadian government troops. Several subsequent attacks were also reported in villages north of Adré, prompting other civilians to flee.
"Some of the Chadians we interviewed told us that they fled directly to the Galu area, where some have relatives," said a UNHCR legal officer in West Darfur. "Others wandered in border areas for some time before getting word of the spontaneous sites and then walking to Galu and Azaza," she added.
A small number of people are still reported to be arriving daily at the sites where UNHCR and Sudanese authorities are currently determining the status of those gathered in the five camps. Women and children make up 75 percent of the camp population.
"Any Chadians among this group are of concern to UNHCR and would be considered asylum seekers pending determination of their status," Pagonis said. "But there are also many Sudanese nationals among the group, who have possibly been drawn to the settlements in the hope of receiving international assistance," she added.
The UN refugee agency and its partners have delivered some assistance including plastic sheeting for shelter, while an NGO had drilled three boreholes and installed water bladders and pumps to ensure an adequate water supply for the group. A medical NGO conducted a vaccination campaign last week.
There are currently 1.8 million internally displaced people in Darfur and 200,000 refugees from Darfur in 12 camps in eastern Chad.