UNHCR plans aid for newly arrived Sudanese refugees in Central African Republic
NAIROBI, Kenya, May 31 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency is planning the delivery of emergency aid to thousands of Sudanese refugees who have crossed into the Central African Republic (CAR) to escape ground and air attacks on their homes in the Darfur region.
At least 1,500 Sudanese have arrived in the past two weeks in Sam Ouandja, but more are turning up every day and UNHCR is taking this into consideration. The remote town in north-east CAR's Haute-Kotto district lies about 80 kilometres from the border with Darfur.
A UNHCR-commissioned registration team left the CAR capital, Bangui, by road on Wednesday for Sam Ouandja, which it was expected to reach on Friday. The team will take down names and other details of new arrivals at a special site set aside by local authorities for the refugees.
UNHCR is preparing a first delivery of some 600 rolls of plastic sheeting - enough for 3,000 people - which the refugees will use to prepare temporary shelters. Other UN agencies are arranging the delivery of food, water and sanitation supplies.
On Monday, a team of UNHCR staff and representatives of other UN agencies and non-governmental organizations reported from Sam Ouandja that most new arrivals were women and children who had walked for 10 days from the town of Dafak in Darfur - a distance of some 200 kilometres. They had used paths which are accessible only on foot or by donkey.
"I was touched by what I saw in Sam Ouandja," said Bruno Geddo, UNHCR's representative in CAR and leader of the inter-agency mission. "Women were collecting mangoes and the men were working on nearby farms to make some money. Many families had begun building makeshift houses. There was a spontaneous settlement coming up," he said, adding that some refugees were selling their livestock.
Geddo said the refugees had described how their homes had been bombarded by an Antonov aircraft and helicopters and attacked on the ground by armed assailants whom they alleged were Arab janjaweed militiamen. The attacks, which took place between May 12-18, drove people from Dafak, a town of some 15,000 inhabitants. The refugees said there were more air attacks as they fled.
The majority of the refugees in Sam Ouandja are of African origin from the Masalit, Fur, Dojou, Tama and Kara ethnic communities. More details such as age, gender, areas of origin, family composition and special needs will be collected by the registration team.
Geddo said that despite reports about the the presence of armed groups among the refugees, "The joint mission did not find evidence of the presence of armed or otherwise suspicious elements in the group." He added that the CAR government and UNHCR would continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that the "civilian nature and humanitarian character of the operation are maintained."
The refugees said they would not return to Darfur until their safety could be guaranteed. Many expressed fear of further attacks and asked the CAR authorities to provide added protection in Sam Ouandja, which was attacked earlier this year by CAR rebels. The town suffers from a shortage of food and medical supplies. Schools are closed as many of the teachers fled last year.
CAR hosts some 8,200 refugees, mainly from the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chad. There are also more than 200,000 internally displaced people in the country.