HC in Chad: Emphasises UNHCR's commitment, urges stronger international presence to improve security
High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres today is in strife-torn eastern Chad, where UNHCR and its partners are struggling to maintain the humanitarian lifeline to hundreds of thousands of Darfur refugees and internally displaced people. The High Commissioner arrived in Chad on Wednesday night and spent yesterday (Thursday) in the capital, N'Djamena, meeting with government officials, members of the diplomatic corps and UNHCR staff. Mr. Guterres emphasised UNHCR's commitment to carry on its work in Chad even in the most difficult of security conditions. But he also noted that a stronger international presence was needed to improve security for those affected by the violence and the aid workers trying to help them.
Altogether, Chad has more than 370,000 refugees and internally displaced people, including 232,000 Darfur refugees from neighbouring Sudan and 90,000 internally displaced Chadians in the east of the country, as well as 48,000 Central African Republic refugees in the south.
Since 2003, UNHCR has operated a dozen remote camps in the east scattered along a 600-kilometre stretch of the Chad-Sudan border. The km these isolated camps have been extremely difficult. Recently, that task has been made doubly difficult because of growing inter-ethnic violence, an armed rebellion and banditry.
Mr. Guterres described Sudan's Darfur region as the epicentre of regional instability that is now affecting both Chad and the Central African Republic. Since early November, some 300 people in eastern Chad have been killed in attacks on more than 70 villages by armed marauders using tactics identical to those of the notorious janjaweed militia just across the border in Darfur. Most of the villages were looted, burned and emptied. Last weekend, attacks on villages in the Koukou Angarana area close to UNHCR's Goz Amer refugee camp in south-eastern Chad left dozens of people dead, including local villagers, refugees and people already displaced in earlier fighting.
In late November, UNHCR lost more than US$1 million in vital aid supplies looted from UNHCR's main warehouse in the eastern town of Abéché following clashes between government and rebel forces.
The violence has forced UNHCR and other aid agencies to temporarily relocate non-essential staff from insecure areas. Currently, we're able to maintain only skeleton crews in half of the 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.
Mr. Guterres said refugees, Chadian civilians and aid staff struggling to cope with the worsening humanitarian situation in the east deserve all the support they can get, including through a strengthened international presence in Chad. In August, UN Security Council Resolution 1706 called for such a "multi-dimensional" presence consisting of political, humanitarian, military and civilian police liaison personnel in key locations in Chad, including in camps for refugees and the internally displaced. A week ago, the Security Council expressed its deep concern at the worsening situation in Sudan and the spillover into Chad and the Central African Republic. The Security Council also noted it was awaiting recommendations on improving security in eastern Chad.
The High Commissioner is also discussing a proposal by Chadian authorities to move the refugee camps in the east some 500-600 km inland, away from the volatile border with Darfur. UNHCR and government experts visited the proposed sites last week and are currently preparing a report on what's possible and what's not. Relocating refugees further away from the border could obviously improve security, but such a move also requires a suitable environment and infrastructure for hosting more than 200,000 people. Obviously, moving such a huge population that distance would also require considerable time, expense and resources - all of which need to be carefully considered before a decision is made.