UNHCR concerned about security incidents in Darfur, Chadian camp
EL GENEINA / ABECHE, Nov 2 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has raised concerns over separate security incidents in western Sudan's Darfur region and in neighbouring eastern Chad that have affected attempts by UNHCR and its partners to help people uprooted by the conflict in Darfur.
In Darfur, the UN security coordinator has suspended all field missions by international organisations, including UNHCR, following the kidnapping of 18 Sudanese from a commercial bus on the road between Zalinge and Nyala last Thursday.
"The local authorities have blamed the rebel movements SLA (Sudan Liberation Army) and SLM (Sudan Liberation Movement) for the kidnapping and said that the rebels continue to violate the ceasefire, attack government vehicles and control and block the roads which are used by humanitarian agencies," noted UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond at a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.
There are also security concerns in the Djabel Moon area, north of El Geneina, and in the Masteri area, 50 km south of El Geneina.
The last time a UNHCR team was able to visit the Masteri area was on October 26, after the lifting of travel restrictions imposed after an October 10 attack on the police station, allegedly carried out by the SLA.
"People in Masteri told the UNHCR team that they have felt extremely insecure since the October 10 attack," said Redmond. "They reported that every night small groups of 20 to 40 persons walk to Chad, and more want to go but are refraining because of the insecurity along the road."
An earlier visit by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on October 24 reported that 400 families had fled to Chad after the October 10 attack.
UNHCR has been unable to assess the situation and monitor reports of population movements towards Chad after a planned mission scheduled to leave on Sunday was grounded in El Geneina as a precautionary measure following Thursday's kidnapping in Zalinge.
There are an estimated 1.6 million internally displaced people within the Darfur region.
Meanwhile, across the border in eastern Chad, health, water and sanitation activities were disrupted by a series of incidents at Breidjing camp last week. Aid workers resumed their duties on Monday after calm returned to the site.
Last week's troubles include threats and intimidation against refugee block leaders and aid workers, and were apparently perpetrated by the same group that caused serious problems at Farchana and Breidjing camps in July that resulted in the deaths of two refugees.
"A particularly disturbing factor is that the recent problems began shortly after one of the main instigators of the July incidents was released from prison," said Redmond. "Eight refugees suspected of being behind the troubles have been arrested by gendarmes, who are responsible for security in the camps under an agreement between the Chadian government and UNHCR."
He added that in one incident last week, two block leaders were threatened by other refugees and were told they would soon be replaced. In a separate incident, a refugee volunteer working for CARE, UNHCR's partner that runs Breidjing camp, was physically threatened by two persons who took his family card and volunteer badge. The refugee worked for the camp's water and sanitation committee. Numerous refugees say that the instigators continue to hold meetings at night in violation of camp regulations.
The water and sanitation committee suspended its activities after a crowd reacted violently following a distribution of 36 jerry cans in one of the camp's blocks. At a meeting last week to discuss the Hepatitis E epidemic, the refugees demanded to know why eight persons suspected of being behind the troubles had been arrested. With tensions mounting, the aid workers from MSF-Holland and Oxfam were threatened and decided to leave the camp after some members of the audience brought out knives.
On Friday, the Adré Prefect met with refugee leaders and warned that if the situation was not brought under control, he would be forced to take action to insure that Chadian law is upheld. The host government is ultimately responsible for security at the camps. The troublemakers are believed to come from Sudan and Farchana camp.
"At the heart of the problem lies the fear among many refugees that the creation of associations to set up income-generating activities will 'normalise' their situation, give the impression that they are well implanted in Chad and hamper their chances of returning to their homes," explained Redmond. "Given the reticence of the refugees towards the creation of associations on the basis of professional trades, no such groups have been created with the exception of the water and sanitation committee."
The majority of the 200,000 Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad live in 11 camps overseen by UNHCR and its partners.
On the funding front, UNHCR has now received $83 million towards its appeal for $114.8 million for eastern Chad and Darfur through the end of the year. This includes recent additional contributions from the United States ($13.7 million, bringing the total US contributions to the operation to $31.7 million) and Japan ($4 million in additional funds, bringing total contributions to $5 million).