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Central Africa: Thousands flee to Chad

Briefing notes

Central Africa: Thousands flee to Chad

21 February 2003

A UNHCR team that travelled to southern Chad this week found more than 6,000 Central Africans and Chadians who had fled the Central African Republic following a fresh government offensive against rebels in the north of the country. Many of the Chadians forced to return to their country had been living in towns and villages in the north of the Central African Republic (CAR) for decades. The influx into southern Chad is continuing at the rate of 500 people per day. Those arriving in recent days are mainly Chadians.

The UNHCR team, from our office in CAR, travelled to villages in south-western Chad to verify reports of an influx. They found thousands of Central African refugees and returning Chadians living under desperate conditions in several border villages. Many had no food or shelter. The largest group was at Koumba, some 65 km south-east of the south-western border town of Goré. The team found 3,520 Central African refugees, mainly from the small CAR town of Makourda, just on the other side of the border. The refugees told the UNHCR team that they had been forced to flee when rebels took over some areas in northern CAR, killing people and looting property. Some of the refugees at Koumba said they had left their homes in January.

The team visited three other sites, where they found some 2,800 Chadians who had fled after living in the CAR for decades. Many are traders and small-scale farmers. They complained that Chadians were being targetted in the latest round of conflict in the north of the Central African Republic. Many said they were headed for their areas of origin, primarily in Salamat prefecture, south-eastern Chad. Others said they had been out of Chad for decades and had lost all links with their home country. They said they did not know where to go.

The UNHCR team reported that there could be many more refugees and returnees in other border areas not visited. UNHCR is now working with Chadian authorities to develop a new site that has been identified by the government for the settlement of new refugees from CAR. The proposed site is 35 km from the border, just north of the border town of Goré. Plans are also being made with the government of Chad and other UN agencies for the transportation of Chadians to their areas of origin.