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New significant outflow of Sudanese refugees into Chad

New significant outflow of Sudanese refugees into Chad

More than 500 Sudanese have arrived in Chad in the first significant crossing from Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region in about two months amid warnings that food shortages in the Chadian desert could spark "enormous problems."
17 August 2004
Sudanese refugees at the Oure Cassoni camp in north-eastern Chad rebuilding their tent after a sandstorm.

ABECHE, Chad, Aug. 17 (UNHCR) - More than 500 Sudanese have arrived in Chad in the first significant crossing from Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region in about two months, the UN refugee agency reported on Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, Jean-Marie Fakhouri, UNHCR's director of operations for Sudan and Chad, warned following a visit to Iridimi camp in northern Chad that the area has not turned green even under heavy rains and the situation is "very, very precarious."

"The least break in the food pipeline would create enormous problems," he said. He said UNHCR is concerned about whether food will be available to feed the refugees after the rainy season ends in September. With the World Food Programme, UNHCR is appealing to donors to keep the pipeline full, Fakhouri said.

Fakhouri leaves Chad to return to Darfur on Tuesday, continuing his mission to assess how the refugee agency can better help 200,000 Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad, as well as many of the estimated 1.2 million Darfuris displaced within Sudan in 18 months of civil conflict.

Staff of the refugee agency registered 478 new arrivals from Darfur at the Chadian border crossing near Guéréda over the past three days. Another 50 were expected to go through the process today.

The refugees, who fled the Saleiha region of Darfur, have apparently been entering Chad in small groups since the beginning of the month. UNHCR sent an inspection team to the border on Aug. 9 after hearing from refugees at Kounoungo camp that numerous persons who had recently crossed the border were showing up spontaneously at the camp.

Asked why they had fled to Chad only recently, they replied that Sudanese officials had previously given them assurances that their villages would be protected, that peace would come soon, and that they would be provided with food. The refugees also said that patrols by the Janjaweed militia had blocked people trying to leave in large numbers or those who had substantial herds of cattle. The refugees added that many vulnerable people, such as pregnant women or the elderly, are not capable of making the journey.

The refugees said they had finally decided to leave because they lost hope that peace would come. They also had limited resources given the constant looting by the Janjaweed and because they sensed that the Janjaweed and authorities connived to prevent them from leaving. Many others have been redirected to designated camps inside Sudan, according to the newest refugees.

A large number of the new arrivals said they had crossed into Chad six months ago but had remained at the border, refusing to move to UNHCR camps because they hoped peace would come soon. At the time they also had large numbers of livestock they could not take care of in the camps. Many said they returned with their animals to villages in the Saleiha region, but crossed back into Chad after raiders decimated their livestock. Those who have returned in the last few days say their only hope now is to be relocated to the Kounoungo and Mile camps.

The newly arrived refugees said it took them between one and four days to reach the Chadian border, depending on the means of travel, and because they hid from Janjaweed and Sudanese military patrols during the day. According to the refugees, some of those trying to leave were forcibly transferred to Saleiha or El Geneina.

UNHCR continues to closely monitor the border area to determine whether the recent arrivals are an exception to the two-month trend that had seen negligible numbers of people cross the Chadian border, or whether they are the first of a possible new wave of Sudanese crossing into Chad.

In the capital, N'Djamena, and in eastern Chad, UNHCR's Fakhouri held talks with national and local government officials, from whom the refugee agency has received excellent co-operation in coping with the huge influx of refugees.

Chad's prime minister, foreign minister and interior minister stressed to Fakhouri what an enormous burden the refugees are putting on their country. They said that any large, new arrival of refugees could destabilise the already fragile Chadian economy.

In addition to its chronic poverty and the influx of refugees, Chad has now been hit by a locust plague that moved in from West Africa.

Security continues to be a problem in eastern Chad. On Saturday night, two Sudanese armed men entered Senette town and killed four male refugees, aged 12, 17, 27 and 29.