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Sudanese refugees settling down in camps in Chad

Sudanese refugees settling down in camps in Chad

Nearly a year after they arrived in Chad, refugees from Sudan's Darfur region have begun to settle into their camps. Delivery of assistance is flowing smoothly, but the battle against the elements continues, alleviated partly by tents donated by the Japanese government.
3 December 2004
Pitching tents donated by the Japanese government in Farchana camp, eastern Chad.

FARCHANA, Chad, Dec 3 (UNHCR) - Sudanese refugees are slowly putting order in their lives in Chad nearly a year after they fled civil strife in Sudan's western region of Darfur.

"We are settling down, but it is not the comfortable life that we have back home," says Bashir, 25, who comes from the North Darfur town of Nyala. "We would like to go back soon if that is possible," he says outside his dust-coated canvas tent donated by the Japanese government in this sprawling camp in the Adré area of eastern Chad.

Farchana is the first camp set up by UNHCR in January this year after violence intensified in Darfur last year. Eleven camps have been established since then, sheltering some 200,000 refugees, most of them trucked from makeshift encampments along the 600-km Chad-Sudan frontier. The relocation has been completed, although there still are 1,000 Sudanese who have spontaneously settled in the border areas where they earn a living working in markets or farms or tending livestock.

Last month, the UN refugee agency registered nearly 16,000 Sudanese encamped in Chad's Am Nabak area in preparation for their transfer to a more appropriate site where there is enough water - a major problem in the desert. The registration in Am Nabak completes UNHCR's efforts to streamline the delivery of assistance to the refugees.

At Oure Cassoni camp in the Bahai region of north-eastern Chad, UNHCR has begun a pilot project to help preserve the environment by distributing kerosene stoves, defusing tensions between refugees foraging for fuel wood and their host communities. Three trucks are being made available to refugees so they can collect firewood in designated areas in Bahai.

Delivery of assistance is flowing smoothly in all the camps. Schools are being organised. Clinics and community centres have been set up. Efforts are also being made to help host communities, particularly in providing supplementary food to malnourished children in and around the camps.

Still, apprehensions among aid agencies remain. The situation in Darfur continues to be worrisome. There are some 1.6 million people displaced in the region the size of France and recent reports of fighting are fuelling fears of a new influx into Chad.

In Chad, the rainy season was brief and harvest this year was poor. The welcome shown to the refugees when they first arrived and shared meals in the villages is beginning to dissipate as the food situation becomes desperate.

International aid in the villages, some of the world's most impoverished, is non-existent. "It is only now that aid agencies are discovering Chad and its myriad problems," says one aid worker. "Assistance should be given to the Chadian villages as well, otherwise there will be problems in the camps."

Sudanese refugees who had so far refused to go to the camps and chosen to stay in the border areas are beginning to trickle into the facilities for aid. Some Chadians who are in desperate situation are also seeking assistance in the camps.

Water in all the camps is insufficient. The UN refugee agency is considering breaking up existing camps and relocating some residents to places where water is available.

Shelter is also a major problem. Tents have a short lifespan. Up north, temperatures dip to 4 or 5°C during winter. The region is constantly whipped by strong winds and the tents are showing signs of wear and tear.

Japan has donated 700 tents, which are now in use in camps at Farchana and nearby Treguine in the Adré area, as well as Goz Amer at Goz Beida.

"We had nothing when we were at the border," said one old man occupying a Japanese tent at Farchana. "Now at least we have something to make life easier for us."

By Djerassem Mbaïorem in Farchana, Chad