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Sudanese refugees continue fleeing to Chad as UNHCR emergency team deploys to region


Sudanese refugees continue fleeing to Chad as UNHCR emergency team deploys to region

The number of Sudanese refugees fleeing the strife-torn Darfur region to neighbouring Chad climbs to 95,000 as a UNHCR emergency team prepares to deploy to the remote border region to begin an urgent relocation operation aimed at moving tens of thousands of people to safer inland camps.
2 January 2004 Also available in:

N'DJAMENA, Chad, Jan. 2 (UNHCR) - Six members of a newly arrived UNHCR emergency team were scheduled to fly to the town of Abéché in eastern Chad over the weekend to begin work on the urgent relocation from insecure border areas of tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees.

Approximately 95,000 Sudanese refugees have fled to Chad since April and are scattered along a remote, 600-km stretch of border between the two countries. An estimated 30,000 of them arrived in December alone, some 5,000 of them in the past few days amid continuing reports of fighting in the Darfur region of western Sudan.

The emergency group, comprising a team leader, a protection officer, a field community services officer, an information officer, an administration officer and a logistics specialist, arrived in the Chadian capital of N'Djamena on Dec. 30 to bolster UNHCR staff already in Abéché. The team was set to fly to Abéché, 850 km east of the capital, on Saturday.

Most of the refugees are women and children and usually arrive at the border on foot following continuing raids by militia groups on villages across the Darfur region. They report that the militia raids are marked by widespread looting and stealing of livestock, sending panicked villagers fleeing on foot toward the border with Chad. Most of the refugees travel by night and in small groups to avoid attention. Dozens of spontaneous camps have appeared along the Sudanese-Chadian border in recent weeks. Insecurity is also high in the border camps, which are frequently raided by Sudanese militia who steal the refugees' cattle.

New, safer camp sites further inland in Chad have been identified by authorities and UNHCR. All are to be located at least 50 km away from the volatile border. A site in Farchana, 55 km from the border, is currently under construction and should be ready to take its first refugees by mid-January. The camp, located between Abéché and the border town of Adré, will have a capacity of 15,000. UNHCR's German partner, GTZ, is currently digging three wells at the site and building latrines and showers. Médecins Sans Frontières Holland will be in charge of water treatment. UNHCR in Abéché has 2,000 tents which will soon be erected in Farchana.

A second camp site has been identified in Karoub, 30 km from Ade and south of Abéché.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of refugees continue to shelter in makeshift huts along the border, surviving on what they have carried or on meagre supplies provided by local and international agencies to especially vulnerable groups. Insecurity and logistical difficulties in reaching the remote region have prevented humanitarian agencies from reaching everyone.

Many of the refugees are reportedly suffering from respiratory problems. In the Birak region in the north, daytime temperatures can reach 35°C., but can drop to less than 10°C. at night. On Friday, UNHCR began distributing blankets, mats, jerry cans and kitchen sets to thousands of refugees in the Birak, Guimeze and Bali areas. Distribution will continue into next week and will also include supplies of sorghum and cooking oil.

While in N'Djamena, the UNHCR emergency team met with government officials, other U.N. agencies and NGO representatives. Government help will be crucial in ensuring that new sites are free of mines and unexploded ordnance. UNHCR has requested Chad's High Commission for De-mining (Haut Commissariat national pour le déminage) to carry out an awareness campaign among the refugees on the dangers of mines and unexploded ordnance. Parts of northern and eastern Chad are heavily mined as a result of three decades of civil war in the country which lasted until 1996.