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Chad: fragile life-line to refugees

Briefing notes

Chad: fragile life-line to refugees

5 December 2006

The fragile life-line to the refugees in eastern Chad is stretching even thinner. The deteriorating and volatile security situation in the east is forcing us to find alternative means to assist refugees as we, and all UN agencies, reduce staff to the bare minimum in the three northern areas of Bahai, Iriba and Guéréda. There are some 110,000 refugees from Darfur in six camps in these areas. All essential international and local staff of UN agencies operating in these areas are scheduled to be relocated in the following days either to Abéché, the main town in eastern Chad or the Chadian capital N'Djamena.

An incident during military activity in the town of Guéréda on Friday 1 December, when four armed men forced their way into UNHCR's compound, threatened the staff at gunpoint and stole two vehicles, underlines the precariousness of the security situation our staff are operating in. The previous weekend in Abéché, our warehouses and those of the World Food Programme were looted in the turbulent period when Chadian rebels occupied the town and when the government forces returned.

We plan to keep a minimum presence in each of the three field offices of Bahai, Iriba and Guéréda to ensure assistance to the refugees continues and to monitor the situation. We plan to use Abéché as a base to send mobile teams of our staff and partner NGO staff to the northern camps for a couple of days as security permits. UN agencies are working with their operational partners to ensure vital services such as primary health, access to water and distribution of food are maintained in the camps. Contingency plans are being activated with pre-positioning of supplies so the six camps directly affected by the staff reduction can run themselves for about one month. This process got underway yesterday, Monday, at Mile and Kounoungo camps near Guéréda. Humanitarian teams are also meeting refugee leaders to keep them informed about the staff reduction and the measures necessary for each camp to keep functioning. Some 54 people are needed to keep both camps - Mile and Kounoungo - working with basic assistance. These tasks will be performed by partner's staff as well as by designated refugees. The same measures are being put into place for camps around Bahai and Iriba.

So far, over 200 humanitarian staff have been relocated from Abéché since November 26. A further 10 UNHCR staff and 185 staff of NGOs from Guéréda are to be relocated. Meanwhile, UNHCR has recovered at least 50 percent of the relief items stolen from its main warehouse in Abéché after the rebel attack on the town on November 25. An estimated $1.3 million worth of relief items had been stolen. Items were recovered after the authorities sensitized the local population and organised house-to-house searches.

The UN refugee agency and its partners assist some 110,000 refugees from Sudan's Darfur region in six camps in the northern areas - Oure-Cassoni (26,300) near Bahai; Iridimi (17,100), Touloum (22,000), and Am Nabak (16,500) near Iriba; and Mile (15,300) and Kounoungo (11,800) near Guéréda.

In total there are 218,000 refugees from Darfur in 12 camps in eastern Chad. There are also some 90,000 displaced persons in eastern Chad, while some 46,000 refugees from the Central African Republic have sought refuge in the south.