No prospect for Darfur's refugees to return soon, says Lubbers
TOULOUM, Chad, March 3 (UNHCR) - After spending a day listening to their "horrible stories", UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers has acknowledged that Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad may not be able to go home anytime soon.
On Wednesday, Lubbers met with Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad's Touloum transit centre and listened to their accounts of attacks and bombings in Darfur, western Sudan. Touloum houses more than 4,800 refugees, many of whom live in huts made of branches and UNHCR plastic sheeting.
Some of them told the High Commissioner that they fled their homes in Sudan after their villages were bombed by a plane, then attacked by militia. They walked days to Tine on the border and built makeshift shelters before being moved by UNHCR to the safer site of Touloum.
"I just sat there and listened to their horrible stories," said Lubbers, noting that the refugees seemed very traumatised. It could be "months and months" before they could even begin to think of returning home, he said, adding, "There's no immediate prospect for them to go back now. UNHCR's role is to accommodate them in Chad until it is safe for them to go back to Darfur."
The High Commissioner called for intensified efforts for peace in Darfur.
While at Touloum camp, Lubbers received good news that UNHCR's partner, the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), had found water 20 metres down and was continuing to drill. Previously, water had to be trucked in from Iriba, but the recent discovery means that the camp can now expand its capacity to accommodate more than 6,000 people. This will help speed up efforts to relocate refugees to inland camps away from the volatile Chad-Sudan border before the rainy season in May.
More than 7,700 Sudanese refugees have already been transferred to three inland camps - Touloum, Farchana and Kounoungo. In all, there are an estimated 110,000 refugees now scattered in the desert of eastern Chad. Water shortage remains a major challenge as UNHCR and its partners rush to find more relocation sites where the refugees can get proper assistance.
UNHCR continues to deliver much-needed relief supplies to Abéché, the main city in eastern Chad. However, the High Commissioner was told today that the airport in Abéché lacks the facilities to support further airlifts on the Ilyushin cargo plane. As a result, the refugee agency will have to send its emergency aid - including plastic sheeting and blankets - from the capital, N'Djamena, to Abéché by truck. The 850-km journey takes about three days by truck and will seriously slow down the delivery of aid.
Back in N'Djamena, the High Commissioner is scheduled to meet the UN Special Envoy to Sudan, Tom Eric Vraalsen, on Thursday. He is also set to give a press conference in the capital before ending his three-day mission to Chad.