Up to 3,000 villagers flee homes in south-east Chad following fresh attacks
ABECHE, Chad, April 3 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency and its partners are dealing with a new wave of displacement in south-eastern Chad following a deadly attack at the weekend against the villages of Tiero and Marena.
Preliminary reports by UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies indicate that since Saturday's attack between 2,000 and 3,000 people have arrived at the Goz Amir refugee camp near the town of Koukou, which is located about 45 kilometres east of the two villages. Goz Amir camp is home to more than 19,000 Sudanese refugees from the neighbouring Darfur region.
An unknown number of villagers have reportedly fled towards the Sudanese border. An inter-agency assessment mission, including UNHCR, left on Monday for the two villages and is expected to provide more information on how many people have been displaced in total.
Early reports indicate at least 70 people were wounded in Saturday's attack, 34 of them seriously. They were evacuated to the Goz Beida hospital an hour away from Goz Amir by road. Many of the wounded were collected along the roadside by humanitarian vehicles.
Chadian military authorities have reported at least 65 dead in the village of Tiero. The bodies are decaying rapidly because of the heat, and they will be buried in a common grave today to avoid the possible outbreak of disease. Figures for the village of Marena are expected later today. The death toll is expected to rise, as reports have been received of corpses along roadsides.
"This humanitarian situation is particularly dramatic, the human suffering so vast that it will affect the ability of these communities to recover," said Serge Male, UNHCR's representative in Chad. "The situation is deteriorating and unfortunately, rather than finding solutions, the displacement situation is getting worse."
The newly displaced people are being directed to the Aradif displacement site, located next to Goz Amir camp, where they are receiving food and other aid. Although water is already available at the site, capacity is being augmented by the provision of water bladders. Emergency structures have been erected to shelter the most vulnerable.
One humanitarian aid group reported that the nutritional situation was cause for concern, as many new arrivals had spent a couple of days without eating. Inoculation against measles has started for children aged one to 15. Children are also being given vitamin A and high-nutrient biscuits.
"We will have to mount an appropriate humanitarian response to deal with this situation, but this alone will not solve the underlying problems of the region," said UNHCR's Male. "We expect that the Chadian authorities will take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of the population and restore order to the region."
Testimony gathered thus far indicates that the attack was led by Arab janjaweed militia who were repelled by local self-defence militias and national army soldiers following several hours of combat. Refugees in Goz Amir and residents of Koukou village could hear heavy weaponry and explosions during the fighting. The situation was reported to have been brought under control by Saturday afternoon, with the alleged janjaweed militias fleeing towards Sudan.
According to survivors interviewed by UNHCR and partner agencies, men on horseback, camels and vehicles - some sporting heavy weaponry - surrounded their villages. The assailants opened fire at random and then began pursuing the fleeing population, robbing women of their possessions and shooting the men, many of whom are feared dead.
"The attackers came very early in the morning of Saturday, about 5 am, approaching from all directions," said a wounded survivor from Tiero. "The attacks lasted until about five-thirty in the evening. There were so many dead that we could not count them all. Corpses were buried in common graves."
The majority of the population arriving at Goz Amir comprises women and children. They are a mix of local populations of Tiero and Marena, as well as people who had been displaced by prior hostilities in the region. They said many people were still hiding in the bush, fearful that their assailants might still be in the area.
There are 120,000 internally displaced people in eastern Chad. The region also hosts 230,000 Sudanese refugees, including 220,000 in 12 UNHCR-run camps. Chad is also hosting some 46,000 refugees from the Central African Republic.
By Matthew Conway in Abéché, Chad