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Chad: UNHCR concerned about the safety of humanitarian workers

Briefing notes

Chad: UNHCR concerned about the safety of humanitarian workers

8 August 2006

UNHCR is very concerned about the safety of humanitarian workers in eastern Chad following a deterioration in the security situation there. We are particularly worried about the situation in and around the town of Guéréda, which is located about 65 kilometres from the border with Sudan.

Last Friday, seven men brandishing assault rifles and wearing military uniforms broke into the compound of a non-governmental organisation in Guéréda. Three aid workers were hit in the head with rifle butts and one of them was later evacuated to a French military hospital in Abéché, capital of eastern Chad. The intruders stole money that was to be used to pay salaries and for the agency's work in refugee camps.

This is the seventh time humanitarian workers have been targeted in the Guéréda area since May. Three weeks ago, two vehicles from another NGO were stolen. At the beginning of July, two UNHCR cars were stolen from our Guéréda office after armed men overpowered the guards.

In February, some of our staff were forced at gunpoint to drive a UNHCR vehicle towards the border with Sudan, but the car was later abandoned and our staff freed unharmed. The security situation also remains unstable in other areas of eastern Chad, including Abéché, where a UNICEF staff member was shot and seriously injured last May.

We are extremely concerned about these incidents. The growing insecurity is making it more difficult and more dangerous for humanitarian agencies and their staff to provide assistance to Sudanese refugees from Darfur in the area. Some international and local humanitarian agencies are working with only essential staff and have reduced their activities in the camps. UNHCR runs two camps in the area - Mile and Kounoungou housing some 27,000 refugees. UNHCR and its partners are taking care of 213,000 refugees from Darfur in 12 camps in eastern Chad.

We have expressed our concerns about the security situation to the Chadian authorities and international parties. We are asking for an increase in the number of gendarmes in eastern Chad so that aid workers can operate without fear of attack. At present there are only 235 gendarmes charged with protecting aid workers and refugees. We are hoping to see an extra 100 deployed to the region in the near future.

Conflict between various ethnic groups, especially in the region of Guéréda, is also adding to the tension for aid workers and the local population.