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UNHCR concerned about security incidents in Darfur and Chad camps

Briefing notes

UNHCR concerned about security incidents in Darfur and Chad camps

2 November 2004

UNHCR is concerned about the apparent escalation of security incidents in Darfur. Along with other international organizations, we have had to cancel missions to the field planned for this week. Following the kidnapping of 18 Sudanese from a commercial bus on the road between Zalinge and Nyala last Thursday, the UN security coordinator suspended all field missions by international organizations, including UNHCR, until further notice.

The local authorities have blamed the rebel movements SLA and SLM for the kidnapping and said that the rebels continue to violate the ceasefire, attack government vehicles and control and block the roads which are used by humanitarian agencies.

There are also security concerns in the Djabel Moon area, north of El Geneina. And tensions are high in the Masteri area, 50 km south of El Geneina. A UNHCR team was supposed to be deployed to Masteri for several days starting on Sunday to assess the situation and monitor reports of population movements towards Chad. But the mission was among those grounded in El Geneina as a precautionary measure following Thursday's kidnapping in Zalinge. The security coordinator had just lifted travel restrictions to the Masteri area, which had been in place for two weeks of in the wake of an October 10 attack on the police station, allegedly carried out by the SLA. A UNHCR team managed to go to Masteri on October 26, after the initial travel restrictions were lifted. People in Masteri told the UNHCR team that they have felt extremely insecure since the October 10 attack. They reported that every night small groups (20 to 40 persons) walk to Chad, and more want to go but are refraining because of the insecurity along the road. An earlier visit by OCHA [UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on October 24 reported that 400 families had fled to Chad after the October 10 attack.

In Chad, meanwhile, a series of incidents at the Breidjing Camp last week led to the temporary suspension of an awareness-raising campaign about the Hepatitis E epidemic. But aid workers resumed their duties on Monday after calm returned to the site. The recent troubles - apparently perpetrated by the same group that caused serious problems at the Farchana and Breidjing camps last July which resulted in the deaths of two refugees - include threats and intimidation against refugee block leaders and aid workers. A particularly disturbing factor is that the recent problems began shortly after one of the main instigators of the July incidents was released from prison. Eight refugees suspected of being behind the troubles have been arrested by gendarmes, who are responsible for security in the camps under an agreement between the Chadian government and UNHCR.

In one incident last week, two block leaders were threatened by other refugees and were told they would soon be replaced. In a separate incident, a refugee volunteer working for CARE, our partner who runs Breidjing camp, was physically threatened by two persons who took his family card and volunteer badge. The refugee worked for the camp's water and sanitation committee. Numerous refugees say that the instigators continue to hold meetings at night in violation of camp regulations.

The water and sanitation committee suspended its activities after a crowd reacted violently following a distribution of 36 jerry cans in one of the camp's blocks. At a meeting last week to discuss the Hepatitis E epidemic, the refugees demanded to know the reasons for the arrest of eight persons suspected of being behind the troubles. With tensions mounting, the aid workers from MSF-Holland and Oxfam were threatened and decided to leave the camp after some members of the audience brought out knives.

The Adré Prefect met with refugee leaders on Friday and warned that if the situation is not brought under control he would be forced to take action to insure that Chadian law is upheld. The host government is ultimately responsible for security at the camps. The troublemakers are believed to come from Sudan and the Farchana Camp.

At the heart of the problem lies the fear among many refugees that the creation of associations to set up income-generating activities will "normalize" their situation, give the impression that they are well implanted in Chad and hamper their chances of returning to their homes. Given the reticence of the refugees towards the creation of associations on the basis of professional trades, no such groups have been created with the exception of the water and sanitation committee.

On the funding front, UNHCR has now received $83 million towards its appeal for $114.8 million for eastern Chad and Darfur through the end of the year. We are grateful for recent additional contributions from the United States ($13.7 million, bringing the total US contributions to the operation to $31.7 million) and Japan ($4 million in additional funds, bringing total contributions to $5 million).