UNHCR rushes to transfer refugees to new camp in southern Chad
MOULA REFUGEE CAMP, Chad, May 27 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has begun transferring 9,526 recently arrived Central African Republic (CAR) refugees from a transit centre in southern Chad to a newly established refugee camp deeper inside the country.
The first two convoys, carrying a total of 1,662 people, arrived at Moula Refugee Camp from Dembo, located 25 kilometres from the Chad-CAR border, on Friday and Sunday. UNHCR plans to run a convoy once every two days to Moula - 150 kms from the border - so that it can complete the operation before the rainy season starts in mid-June.
This latest wave of refugees arrived in southern Chad between January and March, following violence in northern CAR. Many reported their villages had been burned and looted, and some people killed. Smaller groups of refugees have continued to cross the border.
"Now our suffering is over, now we can start a new life," said Kemteta, who arrived in Moula on the first convoy after a gruelling eight-hour journey. "Now we are finally in safety," added the father of six, who fled with his family from their village in northern CAR on January 28.
"The refugees needed to be urgently transferred to a safe site further inland. Our team in southern Chad has made an enormous effort to open the new site and organize the transfer," said Serge Male, UNHCR's representative in Chad, adding that he hoped the operation would receive desperately needed additional funds.
Initially, UNHCR had planned to transfer the refugees to one of three existing camps holding 32,500 CAR refugees near the town of Goré, UNHCR's base in southern Chad. But the recent arrivals refused to go there, citing inter-ethnic tensions, and UNHCR decided to build a new camp 50 kms south of Danamadji, site of the refugee agency's field office in south-east Chad.
The refugees, most of them farmers like Kemteta, expressed their joy to be moving to the better-equipped camp at Moula, where they will each receive cultivable land thanks to the generosity of the local authorities.
"Each refugee family will be granted 2.5 hectares of farmland," said Fatta Kourouma, head of the UNHCR office in Danamadji. He added that the World Food Programme (WFP) would distribute monthly food rations while the Food and Agriculture Organization would provide the refugees with seeds and tools.
The refugees are currently housed in family tents, but will soon start building their own homes from brick and straw. The children will be sent to schools, providing them with an education that offers them hope for a brighter future.
"I guess we have to take it day-by-day," said Kemteta, who once he had found his way around Moula was feeling a bit concerned about feeding his family. "This is hopefully a new beginning for us."
UNHCR operates five camps in southern Chad for more than 56,000 refugees from northern CAR. The agency also operates 12 camps in eastern Chad for some 250,000 refugees from Sudan's Darfur region.
By Annette Rehrl in Moula Refugee Camp, Chad