UNHCR concerned over fighting in Darfur
UNHCR is deeply concerned over the heavy fighting that took place in Darfur on Saturday between the Sudanese Army and Sudanese rebels within a few kilometres of the Ouré Cassoni refugee camp on the Chadian side of the border. Although no one in or around the camp was harmed, refugees and humanitarian workers were certainly alarmed by the gunfire and bombardment just across the border. This incident is yet further evidence of the destabilization that is occurring in the region and which High Commissioner António Guterres has repeatedly warned about.
The ongoing deterioration of the security situation in Darfur and increasing insecurity throughout eastern Chad highlights the urgent need to move Sudanese refugees in Ouré-Cassoni camp further away from the border. While most of the 12 UNHCR run-camps in Eastern Chad are located at least 50 km from the border, Ouré Cassoni is only 5 km from the frontier with Sudan. Another camp, Am Nabak, is 18 km from the border. The two camps respectively host 26,300 and 16,500 refugees from Darfur.
We have now secured permission from the government of Chad and local authorities to survey open land near the town of Biltine, in the department of Wadi Fira, for suitable new refugee sites. We have had several discussions over the past two years with Chadian authorities on the relocation of refugees from Ouré Cassoni and from Am Nabak, not only because of the camps' close proximity to the border, but also because of the difficulties in providing assistance, particularly water, in these desert-like locations. The identification of appropriate sites with sufficient water and firewood in desolate eastern Chad has been a major challenge. The proposed relocation had also been met with some resistance from local authorities, local populations and even the refugees themselves.
With the deterioration of the security situation, it is now urgent that the relocation take place and we are preparing plans accordingly. We will have to put in place some emergency measures, such as moving refugees to existing camps or to temporary transit sites until a proper site is actually developed. This could take several months. Meanwhile, UNHCR and its partners continue their normal activities in the camps with some limitations, including the necessity of travelling to the camps under armed escort.
Last week, we reported that 40 vehicles belonging to humanitarian agencies had been stolen since November 2005 - less than half of which had been recovered. Since Friday, two additional vehicles were stolen.