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UNHCR moves recent Sudanese arrivals into Chad camp

UNHCR moves recent Sudanese arrivals into Chad camp

The UN refugee agency has relocated 223 refugees who recently arrived in Chad's Birak border town to Kounoungo camp further inland. Meanwhile, refugees who had arrived earlier but chosen to stay near the border are increasingly opting to relocate to the camps, where they can receive assistance.
26 August 2004
Aid workers assisting an elderly refugee from an ambulance after her arrival at Kounoungo camp in eastern Chad.

KOUNOUNGO CAMP, Chad, Aug 26 (UNHCR) - Ardgoun Oumar Haroun sat in the shade behind a distribution tent with three of her seven children at this refugee camp near Guéréda in eastern Chad, waiting with other women to be assigned a sleeping place for the night. "They gave me blankets, soap, food and water," she said. "I was really surprised."

"I was startled to see all these people," Haroun added. "When I arrived, neighbours from my village came to greet me, and that made me very happy."

Haroun was one of 223 refugees - mostly women and children - who were transported by UNHCR on Wednesday from the frontier town of Birak to Kounoungo refugee camp 83 km inland. For her as for the others, arriving at the camp marked the end of a long nightmare.

After escaping from her native village of Abrambra in western Sudan's Darfur region, Haroun, her husband and children survived for three months on the Chadian side of the border before returning to her homeland to find her village burned and the attacks continuing. "They burned my house, killed my brother, and my parents died from bombings by Antonov aircraft," she recounted calmly. "Do you think I'm going to return after being chased out like that?"

Haroun crossed back into Chad after the attack, settling just 1 km from the border. One day her 20 head of cattle strayed back into Sudan, but she was too afraid to go after them. "Everything I had is now gone. We have nothing to eat," she said.

Like thousands of other refugees, Haroun and her family had earlier decided not to move into a UNHCR camp because they had relatives in the area, good grazing ground for their cattle, and hope that peace would return soon to the Darfur region. But they changed their minds when the situation got desperate.

Wednesday's transfer to Kounoungo went smoothly. The refugees gathered at Birak, a border town of straw huts and mud houses, where their pre-registration papers were checked. After Chadian soldiers searched their bags for weapons and other dangerous objects, the refugees climbed into six white Chadian Red Cross trucks. The elderly and sick were transported in two ambulances.

Among the passengers was Mohammed Mursel Ebet, who crossed into Chad just six days ago with his wife and child. Standing under the hot desert sun in Birak, he said he had witnessed an attack earlier this month by the Janjaweed militia between Arge and his home village of Babanusa in which eight persons were killed. "They attacked suddenly, and when people started to run, they killed them. Later we returned to bury the dead," he said.

Just 18 days later, the Janjaweed were back, this time in Babanusa itself. They killed 11 persons - 10 men and one woman - and took his 15 head of cattle and 35 goats as well as the fabrics, television sets, radios and even generators that Ebet imported from Libya to sell.

"They took everything, they left nothing," he recounted. "They even took my clothing and that of my wife's."

Ebet, like many other refugees interviewed recently at several camps, said there are thousands of people in the nearby Jabamoun Mountains waiting to cross into Chad. "They want to come but the Janjaweed intercept them and chase them back," he said.

Not all of the refugees gathered at Birak Wednesday left on the convoy for Kounoungo camp. Meram Mohamat sat at the transfer point in Birak with her four children and watched as the others boarded the trucks for Kounoungo. Although her mother and sister were part of the convoy, she decided to stay to wait for her father, who is still in Sudan. As for her husband, it's been two years since she last saw him.

Home may be just across the border, but for most refugees, the prospect of returning any time soon has become a distant dream.

The proof: So far this month, 7,345 refugees have moved on their own from the border to four UNHCR camps - Oure Cassoni, Breidjing, Mile and Kounoungo. North of Tine, UNHCR officials counted another 1,493 persons who had previously declined to live in UNHCR camps but now want to go to the nearby Iridimi and Touloum camps in the Iriba area because they have run out of food. The refugee agency proposed a one-time assistance in provisions and plastic sheeting until they can be transferred to the new camp that is being constructed at Mader and is expected to be ready next month.

"They now understand that they will not be going back to Sudan very soon, where the situation deteriorates from day to day," said Augustin Moussalia, UNHCR's protection officer in Guéréda who frequently visits the border around the Birak area.

Since January, the refugee agency has transferred most of the refugees from the affected 600-km border stretch to nine camps further inside Chad. More than 147,000 people are now accommodated in the camps, and UNHCR plans to transfer another 7,500 refugees from the border region to Treguine, a second new camp now being built. Some 16,000 refugees currently at the overcrowded Breidjing camp will also be moved - 10,000 of them to Treguine, and 6,000 to the existing camp at Farchana.

Finally, some 10,000 refugees who have gone on their own from the border to a site at Am Nabak, where water resources are insufficient to sustain a refugee camp, are scheduled to be relocated to the new camp being set up at Mader.