UNHCR transfers 5,400 Sudanese refugees to Chad camps
Note: This story was lightly edited on 21 April, adding a number of quotes.
ABECHE, Chad, April 18 (UNHCR) - Just over two months after the latest major eruption of fighting in Sudan's West Darfur region, the UN refugee agency has transferred some 5,400 new Sudanese refugees to two camps in eastern Chad.
But UNHCR estimates that another 8,000 people remain scattered in several villages along the volatile Chad-Sudan border. Continuing insecurity along the border and the logistical challenges of operating in such a remote environment have made the transfer operation extremely difficult.
There has been sporadic military activity on the Darfur side of the border, and armed groups are often seen on the Chadian side. On Sunday morning, a UNHCR team inside Chad witnessed aerial bombing on the Sudan side south-east of the Chad border town of Birak.
Since UNHCR began the transfer operation in early March of refugees stuck at the border, the agency has moved 5,287 of the new arrivals to Kounoungou Camp, which was recently extended but has now reached its capacity of 18,900 refugees. Nearly 90 percent of the new arrivals are women and children.
With Kounoungou now filled, UNHCR began on Tuesday transferring recent arrivals to a second camp - Mile, about 20 kilometres north of Kounoungou. The first group of 112 refugees on Tuesday was followed by a second group of 59 on Wednesday. Most of the refugees had been living in the open since the fighting erupted in the northern part of West Darfur on February 9.
"After all the suffering the new arrivals went through, it is comforting to know that women and children are now safe in Kounoungou and Mile camps. At least there we can provide them with the assistance they need," said Catherine Huck, UNHCR's deputy representative in Chad.
"We hope the security situation at the border will not deteriorate again. The transfer to the refugee camps needs to be finalized before the start of the rainy season. We only have two months left. As of July Birak will be inaccessible," she added.
UNHCR is completing an extension of Mile to accommodate a further 4,000 refugees. Mile currently houses about 16,200 Darfurians. The two camps are among 12 operated by UNHCR along a remote 600-km stretch of the Chad-Sudan border. Altogether, the camps hold some 250,000 Darfur refugees.
The UN refugee agency does not expect that all of the remaining 8,000 refugees at the border will opt to move to the camps. Jorge Holly, head of UNHCR's Guéréda field office, said about 5,000 refugees were concentrated to the south-east of Birak, including a large number of women and children.
"UNHCR continues organizing protection field missions, which include home visits, meeting refugees and leaders, explaining the camp situation and sensitizing them about the importance of being transferred to a safe area before the rainy season starts," he noted.
Upon arrival in the camps, the refugees are given medical examinations, children are vaccinated and families receive tents and household kits. The tents are used as temporary shelter until the refugees can build sturdier mud brick huts.