UNHCR moves vulnerable Sudanese refugees to inland Chad camps
GUEREDA, Chad, March 7 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has begun moving inland the most vulnerable among a group of several thousand recently arrived Sudanese refugees on the eastern Chad border.
A first group of 117 refugees from 34 families were transferred with their belongings on Thursday from the volatile Birak border area to Kounoungou refugee camp, which is located some 70 kilometres from the Chad-Sudan border. A second planned transfer Friday was delayed because of renewed fighting on the Sudanese side of the frontier. More displacement is expected.
Those moved on Thursday were among some 13,000 refugees who have arrived in eastern Chad since February 8, fleeing air and ground attacks on villages and camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) across the border in Sudan's West Darfur.
UNHCR teams have distributed emergency kits, including blankets, to the refugees, most of whom have been sheltering under trees for the past three weeks. The refugee agency staff members in the Birak area have also been informing the refugees about the operation to move the most vulnerable and needy among them to the two camps located near the town of Guéréda.
Serge Male, UNHCR's representative in Chad, said severely traumatized and wounded refugees would be "among the first to be transferred to existing refugee camps, where they will be better assisted and protected."
Priority will also be given to single mothers, the elderly, pregnant women and those with special needs who want to be moved. Male said those who did not want to be transferred were free to remain at the border while receiving assistance from UNHCR or to return to Sudan.
UNHCR has found several badly injured adults and children among the arrivals in Birak and has been able to arrange medical treatment. Dadja, for example, may have died if she had not been moved from the border and treated in a hospital run by UNHCR implementing partner, IMC (International Medical Corps).
Her father, Ismail Adam, held up a piece of shrapnel and pointed to the five-year-old, who was recovering from an operation. "This is the piece they took out of her lower abdomen," Adam said softly.
Adam explained that he and his family were living at a site for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Sileah, West Darfur, when armed men, whom he claimed were from the janjaweed militia, attacked the village. "In the evening, when they had finished, I ran back to the house and found Djada. She was lying on the ground and bleeding. I carried her to Birak." She is expected to make a full recovery.
When the border transfers resume, the vulnerable refugees will be taken to established camps such as Mile and Kounoungou, which has been hosting 13,500 Sudanese refugees since 2004 and can absorb some 6,000 more.
Recent arrivals in Kounoungou include three mothers and their nine children who have been allocated three tents. One is occupied by 31-year-old Khamisa and four of her five children, who also fled the attack on Sileah in Darfur.
"My husband stayed behind with our oldest son at the border," she said, explaining: "He's trying to find our relatives. When the attacks started in Sileah, we all ran in different directions and many families got separated."
The assailants destroyed and looted homes in Sileah, which was largely populated by internally displaced people such as Khamisa, who walked for one-and-a-half days to reach the border. "On our way to Chad we were harassed by janjaweed," she said. UNHCR teams interviewing the new arrivals in recent weeks have heard many similar stories.
Meanwhile, staff in Kounoungou and nearby Mile camp are making preparations to accommodate the new arrivals. Upon arrival, the refugees are medically screened, receive a first one-month food ration from World Food Programme and are provided with a package of relief items. All of them will be temporarily housed in tents and then allocated a space where they can build their own houses.
UNHCR's Male, meanwhile, said the refugee agency, working with the authorities as well as UN and European Union peace-keepers, would "provide a safer environment for all populations affected by the conflict and instability."
By Annette Rehrl in Guéréda, Chad