First contact made with 2,000 marooned refugees in southern Chad
GORE, Chad, September 13 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday that leaders of a recently arrived group of refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR), who have been marooned for over three weeks by torrential rain in southern Chad, have finally linked up with anxious aid officials after making a perilous journey by canoe through the floodwaters.
The group of approximately 2,000 refugees are stranded in 12 locations around the remote village of Bekan close to the border in southern Chad. Both Bekan itself and the surrounding area have been completely inaccessible by road because of ongoing rains which have flooded the entire area.
Over the weekend, five refugee representatives and some local officials from Bekan travelled around 10 km by canoe and on foot to meet UNHCR staff in the village of Bedoumia. Officials from CNAR - Chad's national refugee authority - and the Chadian Red Cross were also there to greet them.
"We arrived in Bekan almost a month ago," one of the refugees told the UNHCR team. "People are becoming less enthusiastic and my feeling is that we are becoming a burden. We want to leave the villages by any means if there is some place for us in the camp."
UNHCR's spokesman Ron Redmond told a press briefing in Geneva that this was the first direct contact with this group of refugees since they crossed over to southern Chad from the Central African Republic in August.
"The refugees said they fled their villages in northern CAR, mainly in the canton of Bedan in the Paoua region, because of the deteriorating security situation," Redmond told reporters. "They told of attacks by unidentified, heavily armed groups and of cattle breeders who graze their animals on their fields."
The relocation of 2,000 refugees under such conditions is going to be extremely difficult, Redmond said, adding that UNHCR might also have to resort to canoes because Bekan is now an island. At present, only one 10-seat canoe is available in Bekan, so UNHCR is checking out the possibility of renting other boats in the regional centre of Goré, 15 km from Bedoumia. The transfer of the refugees is growing more urgent because of the limited resources of local villagers in Bekan. Sanitation is also a concern, Redmond said.
"We are doing our best in close collaboration with the administrative authorities and our partners, including attempting to hire canoes to bring the refugees across the water. This situation requires a quick response and the relocation operation should begin soon," said Georges Menze, UNHCR's Head of Office in Goré, some 25 km from Bekan, after meeting with the refugee leaders.
Once they reach dry ground in Bedoumia, the refugees will be temporarily housed in the existing Amboko camp until a new site is developed. The government of Chad has agreed to the construction of another camp in the south and UNHCR has proposed a site at Bedamara, about 10 km from Amboko. The camp at Amboko is already hosting 23,000 refugees from CAR and is close to its maximum capacity of 27,000. A UNHCR site planner will travel to Goré this week to begin layout preparations in Bedamara.
There are presently 40,000 to 45,000 refugees from CAR in southern Chad, including 12,000-15,000 who have fled attacks by armed groups since the beginning of June.
By Djerassem Mbaïorem