UNHCR concerned about situation in Chad's camps after disturbances
Editor's Note: Some figures in this story were amended on July 23.
ADRE, Chad, July 22 (UNHCR) - Reports indicate that two refugees from Sudan's Darfur region were killed today during an operation by Chadian government forces seeking to put an end to unrest at two refugee camps in eastern Chad.
The Chadian government had previously ordered all aid workers other than officials of CNAR - Commission Nationale d'Accueil et de Réinsertion des Réfugiés, UNHCR's government counterpart - to temporarily withdraw from Farchana and Breidjing camps following the violence that erupted on July 13 and July 16 respectively. Aid workers who escaped last week's unrest said they feared they could have lost their lives had they not fled the unruly crowds.
Humanitarian workers in the area told UNHCR today that they saw two bodies, a man and a woman, that had been taken from Farchana camp. Four Chadian government armoured vehicles were reportedly seen on routes leading to the camp. There are reports that government forces searched Farchana camp and collected weapons from the refugees, but it is not clear what type of weapons were recovered.
The UN refugee agency deeply regrets the deaths of the two refugees.
UNHCR urges both the Chadian government and refugees to explore all avenues to resolve the situation without further violence. The agency has taken part in repeated efforts to talk to the refugees, and has also been working to get local tribal elders to intercede between the refugees and the government in order to try to diffuse the situation.
It is believed that the Chadian authorities had wanted to detain persons suspected of being related to the recent wave of violence at Farchana camp, which shelters more than 11,000 Sudanese refugees.
The violence had started on July 13, when exiles protesting relief agency efforts to improve conditions in the overcrowded camps attacked aid workers in Farchana camp with rocks and other projectiles. On July 16, knife-wielding refugees descended upon aid workers at Breidjing camp.
Breidjing has some 30,000 residents - having swelled to twice its planned size due to the unexpected arrival of thousands of refugees who spontaneously walked from the border with Sudan.
The Chadian government has so far made four attempts to talk with the refugees, but was repeatedly rebuffed.
Aid workers and government officials say that men claiming to speak for the 40,000 refugees living at the two sites have been making conflicting claims during the ongoing discussions to diffuse the tensions. Possible reasons behind the incidents include fears among some refugee leaders that the international community was unwilling to help them to speedily return home, but instead wanted to keep them in camps.
Meanwhile, conditions at the camps have worsened since aid workers were asked to leave, with key activities like water distribution and sanitation work winding down, leaving refugees at the two sites dependent on shallow wells. Other key assistance like food and shelter distribution and the provision of medical care have also halted.
UN officials are concerned that the two camps' majority population of women and children are affected by the interruption of relief activities. A food distribution is planned for August 1 at the sites near Adré, but this will depend upon the security situation.
UNHCR's team leader at Abéché briefed donor government diplomats and non-governmental organisation officials in Geneva on Wednesday about the agency's concerns for the health and physical well-being of the refugees in Farchana and Breidjing following the recent developments.
"We are very concerned about conditions in these two camps where services have been cut off," UNHCR's Craig Sanders declared at the briefing. "For every minute, for every day that this situation goes on, we could be looking at a serious public health problem."
The UN refugee agency has prepared a draft agreement for discussion with the government of Chad on security issues and the need to maintain the civilian character of the refugee camps.
Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Kamel Morjane told officials at the agency's briefing in Geneva that this draft memorandum of understanding would help to clarify areas of responsibility, but could not itself end the problems brought about by the refugees' frustrations.
The Chadian government has ultimate responsibility for maintaining security in the camps.