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Chad: UNHCR strongly condemns forced recruitment of Sudanese refugees

Briefing notes

Chad: UNHCR strongly condemns forced recruitment of Sudanese refugees

31 March 2006 Also available in:

UNHCR strongly condemns the forced recruitment of Sudanese refugees from Darfur by various armed groups in some of our camps in eastern Chad, breaching the civilian character of asylum and of our camps. We call upon all parties involved to put an end to these activities in our camps, including Treguine and Breidjing.

The three camps are located between Abéché, eastern Chad's capital, and the border town of Adré. Investigations by UNHCR teams and testimonies from refugees show that recruiting took place between Friday afternoon, 17 March, and Sunday, 19 March - a weekend, when fewer humanitarian staff are present in the camps. This is not the first time we've had such reports. In early March, we also had reports of forced recruitment in Kounoungou camp, near the town Guéréda.

Although we're unable at this stage to give precise figures, initial assessments indicate that several hundred men were recruited in Treguine and Breidjing. Refugees said recruiters mainly targeted boys and men ranging in age from 15 to 35. Some of them were even younger. Most were recruited by force, but some joined voluntarily.

It is not yet entirely clear who is responsible for this recruitment operation, and UNHCR will not speculate at this early stage. But we can say that some of the refugees who were recruited have since returned to the camps and told our teams that they had been brought to training bases across the border in Darfur.

This activity is further evidence of the growing insecurity that has now spread to both sides of the Chad-Sudan border - something High Commissioner António Guterres has been warning about for months. There are also reports of clashes yesterday in an area between the eastern Chad towns of Ade and Modeina, about 100 km south of Adré.

There have been no indications that the recruitment of refugees continued after Sunday 19 March in the two camps. Nevertheless, some young refugees, fearful of being recruited, are now believed to be in hiding outside the Chad camps, in neighbouring villages.

Following our initial investigations in the camps, we had several high-level meetings over the past week with Chadian authorities and strongly stressed that the civilian character of the refugee camps must be maintained at all times, and respected in all circumstances. Forced recruitment of refugees, especially of minors, who came to Chad to seek asylum is totally unacceptable. During those meetings, we reminded the government of Chad that it is primarily responsible for ensuring the security of refugee camps on its territory. The government has promised to increase the deployment of gendarmes around the camps to prevent the entry of arms or armed individuals. We also asked the government for its support in ensuring the safe return of recruited refugees.

More than 200,000 refugees from Sudan's Darfur region are in 12 UNHCR-run camps along the border in eastern Chad.