More Sudanese refugees arrive in Chad as Guterres calls for 'bold measures' to avert catastrophe
GAGA CAMP, Chad, Jan. 24 (UNHCR) - UNHCR reported Tuesday that Sudanese refugees are again fleeing Darfur for camps in neighbouring eastern Chad, while High Commissioner António Guterres warned the UN Security Council in New York of a "much greater calamity" in the region unless bold measures are taken soon.
"Today, violence and impunity - never completely in check - are again everyday occurrences in Darfur," Guterres said in a Tuesday morning address to the 15-member Security Council. "Humanitarian workers are regularly cut off from the displaced and those they are trying to help."
The UN refugee agency chief noted that the insecurity in Darfur has now spread across the border to Chad, where last Friday armed rebels took several government officials hostage and attacked the village of Guéréda, where the UN refugee agency is caring for more than 25,000 Sudanese refugees in two camps.
"The international community could face a catastrophe in Darfur," Guterres warned. "Averting it will require bold measures and the full involvement of the African Union and the United Nations. If we fail - if there is no physical protection for those in need of aid - the risk is a much greater calamity than what we have seen so far."
UNHCR operates a dozen refugee camps in remote eastern Chad for more than 200,000 Sudanese from Darfur. Most of them fled Darfur in 2003-2004. But earlier Tuesday, UNHCR reported that since January 1, some 800 Sudanese from West Darfur had arrived at its camps in eastern Chad - and more could be on the way.
The new arrivals are being cared for by UNHCR and its partners at Gaga refugee camp, east of the Chadian town of Abéché. The refugees say they fled continuing attacks by "janjaweed" militia who loot their homes and steal their livestock. The refugees also cite fears over recent tensions between Chad and Sudan, particularly an attack on the Chadian border town of Adré on December 18, 2005.
Some of the refugees come from villages straddling the Chad-Sudan border, while others fled sprawling camps for internally displaced people inside West Darfur, including Mornei, Masteri and Ardamata.
Small groups of 10 to 20 Sudanese refugees continue to arrive daily in Gaga, which currently has 6,600 residents and is the newest of UNHCR's 12 camps in eastern Chad. They say more people are ready to leave Darfur because of continuing insecurity.
As the new arrivals erected tents and built straw fences around them for protection against the cold and the sandstorms, they told UNHCR staff variations of the same sad tale.
"I am from Guelo, a village in Darfur, and with my wife and five children, we crossed the border and walked four days to get to Gaga," said Djidrine, a 74-year-old man who recently reached the camp. "Guelo was our home for the past ten years and I have never seen such horrendous violence. The attack took place at night. They stole all our cattle. They killed and injured many people. Thank God, I have been able to flee with my family and arrive safely in Gaga."
Many of the new arrivals say they travelled at night, riding donkeys. Others rode by truck from El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, to villages near Gaga at a cost of US$30 to $40 per person - a fortune in this part of the world. Others walked for days to reach safety, carrying only a few possessions.
Haoua tells her mother's story as she carries her young child on her back.
"Look at my mother: she lost her mind because the janjaweed have taken all her cattle - 16 cows and 17 camels," Haoua says tearfully. "We left Kekebe, our village in Darfur, because of the war there. We first found refuge in a Chadian village close to the border, in Kourboutcha. But even there, the janjaweed chased us and stole everything once again last month."
On arrival at Gaga, the new refugees are registered by UNHCR and the CNAR (Commission nationale d'accueil et de réinsertion des réfugiés), the Chad government refugee agency. The refugees receive tents, food, blankets, cooking kits, mats and other items. Refugees also undergo medical screening, with particular attention paid to children.
"The refugees tell us that they feel safe in Gaga, and that in Darfur they were too afraid of seeing their villages attacked by militia groups and of being victims of such attacks," said Claire Bourgeois, UNHCR Deputy Representative in Chad.
By Djerassem Mbaïorem and Ginette Le Breton in eastern Chad