Security concerns heighten following deadly militia attack near Chad refugee camps
ABECHE, Chad, May 2 (UNHCR) - UNHCR expressed alarm Tuesday over growing insecurity along the Chad-Sudan border, where a raid on Monday by 150 armed men just a few kilometres from a refugee camp left four Chadian civilians dead and five others wounded.
The Chadians were killed early Monday in an attack near the village of Dolola, in south-eastern Chad. Dolola is near UNHCR's refugee camp at Goz Amir, which currently shelters some 17,700 Sudanese refugees from Darfur. One woman was among the dead in Monday's attack.
A group of some 150 armed men, described by the local population as janjaweed militia, surrounded villagers and opened fire on them, witnesses said. The attackers stole about 1,000 head of cattle as well as horses.
The wounded were treated at Goz Amir refugee camp, 95 km from the Sudan border, and at a hospital in Goz Beida.
Goz Amir is one of 12 UNHCR-run camps in eastern Chad housing refugees from Darfur. Several hundred internally displaced Chadians have also settled around Goz Amir in recent weeks, having fled earlier janjaweed attacks and hoping to find relative safety closer to the camp.
Increasing attacks and intimidation in and around refugee camps are a matter of grave concern to UNHCR. High Commissioner António Guterres has repeatedly expressed his concerns in recent months over spreading insecurity throughout the remote border regions of Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic - a situation that affects not only refugees but vulnerable local populations as well.
"We are very worried about the consequences these attacks are already having on Chadian civilians who are being repeatedly forced to uproot their lives in search of sanctuary further inland in Chad," said Claire Bourgeois, UNHCR's deputy representative in Chad. "We are likewise concerned about the growing proximity of these attacks to camps housing tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees in south-eastern Chad who have already fled the horrors of Darfur."
Despite the presence of about 18 Chadian gendarmes around each refugee camp in eastern Chad, UNHCR believes security needs to be further strengthened. Local Chadians throughout the eastern region are now telling UNHCR staff that they are very frightened, and that if humanitarian agencies are forced to withdraw from the area, they too would have to move in search of safety.
Bourgeois said UNHCR teams in Chad will continue to closely follow developments and to work with Chadian authorities to ensure that the protection of civilians remains a top priority.
"We are in daily contact with Chadian authorities, who are ultimately responsible for the protection of these civilian populations," Bourgeois said. "We have repeatedly expressed our concerns about the lack of security being provided throughout the region, and we are hoping that Chadian authorities will be better able to give more attention to these matters."
UNHCR staff will also continue awareness campaigns aimed at maintaining the civilian character of all refugee sites and at discouraging efforts to recruit refugees for armed conflict.
In all, there are more than 200,000 refugees from Darfur in 12 camps in eastern Chad. Another 46,000 refugees from the northern part of the Central African Republic are in camps in southern Chad.
By Matthew Conway in Abéché, Chad