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Aid arrives for Sudanese refugees in Chadian desert

Aid arrives for Sudanese refugees in Chadian desert

Relief supplies have arrived in eastern Chad to help more than 65,000 Sudanese refugees encamped on the border with Sudan. The UN refugee agency is working to distribute the aid under road, weather and logistical constraints.
25 September 2003
Sudanese refugees living under makeshift shelters in the Chadian border town of Tine.

ABECHE, Chad, Sept 25 (UNHCR) - The first batch of relief supplies has arrived in eastern Chad to assist more than 65,000 Sudanese refugees who have been living under precarious conditions near the Chad-Sudan border for months.

On Wednesday afternoon, the last of three relief flights chartered by UNHCR to airlift the badly-needed aid landed in Abéché in eastern Chad after being transported from the agency's regional stockpile in Ngara, western Tanzania. This first consignment contains supplies for up to 40,000 people.

By Thursday, UNHCR's emergency team in Abéché, located about 170 km from the border, had begun making arrangements to distribute the aid to the refugees scattered across some 20 locations along the remote and unsafe border region. Although access to some of the areas remains difficult due to the rainy season, the emergency team will initially target refugees already living in large concentrations in towns such as Tine, Birak, Borota, Ade and Farchana. At the same time, it will work to regroup the refugees into four sites proposed by local authorities.

Since its arrival in Abéché nearly a week ago, the emergency team has been working with the local authorities to evaluate the proposed sites to ensure better access, security and assistance for the refugees. However, the planned relocation could be severely hampered by the continuing rainy season, which has caused dry river beds to flood, cutting off road access in some places.

According to the government of Chad, the first wave of Sudanese refugees arrived in the country in April this year to escape fighting between Sudan government forces and rebels of the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM) in the Darfur region of western Sudan. Tens of thousands of refugees streamed into Chad in July as fighting escalated, bringing the number of new refugees to more than 65,000 by government estimates.

Despite a ceasefire announced on September 4, the conflict has continued, with both sides blaming the other for breaching the ceasefire agreement. There are unconfirmed reports of an ongoing influx into Chad.

As tension continues in Darfur, refugees have reported border incursions in Tine, a border town north-east of Abéché, where there are more than 28,000 refugees. Local authorities confirmed these reports, adding that the town that straddles the border was hit by falling shrapnel from the Sudan side of the border. The refugees, who have been living in desperate conditions on the border for months with no shelter, food or safe drinking water, say they remain fearful for their safety and are not willing to return home for now.

Meanwhile, UNHCR on Thursday despatched four more light vehicles to Abéché from the Chadian capital, Ndjamena, significantly beefing up its logistical capacity in the remote border area. The vehicles are expected in Abéché by this weekend. With improved means of transport, the agency's emergency team will be able to visit more refugees in various locations and expedite the distribution of supplies.