More aid, new site for desperate refugees on Chad-Sudan border
ABECHE, Chad, Feb 17 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency today started daily flights to bring more than 256 tons of relief aid to 110,000 refugees along the Chad-Sudan border, where local resources are being stretched to the limit.
On Tuesday, an Ilyushin cargo plane set off with non-food supplies from Mwanza, Tanzania, for Abéché, the main city in eastern Chad. It kicked off a series of daily shuttle flights that is expected to deliver 256,128 kg of aid this week, including 39,000 blankets, 14,000 kitchen sets, 44,000 jerry cans and tons of plastic sheeting and soap from UNHCR's regional stockpiles in Ngara, Tanzania.
This will be in addition to the plastic sheeting, transportable warehouses and four-wheel drive vehicles that arrived over the weekend from UNHCR's stockpiles in Copenhagen.
An estimated 110,000 Sudanese have sought refuge in eastern Chad after fleeing the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region since April last year. Many of them are encamped along a 600-km stretch of the border, living under precarious conditions, as UNHCR assessment teams can testify.
Visiting the southern border town of Dagdsa, UNHCR staff met a refugee representative who estimated that 17,000 to 20,000 people had fled militia attacks in the Sudanese canton of Kegnou since last summer. The refugees are living in makeshift shelters made of branches and hay. Most of them have relatives on the Chadian side to provide them with food, while local authorities have also organised food distributions. Still, staff of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported seeing several cases of malnutrition among children in the area.
"The fragile situation of the refugees shows that the resources of the local population to help them are reaching their limits," said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond at a news briefing in Geneva Tuesday. "UNHCR and its partners need urgently to move them as quickly as possible to camps where they can receive food and other basic assistance."
In Ade, also in the south, local authorities told UNHCR they registered 8,115 refugees who had arrived over the past few months, mostly from Sudan's Beida canton. The authorities also complained that the militia had been crossing from Sudan into Chad regularly to steal cattle.
Visiting north-eastern Chad late last week, another UNHCR team reported finding refugees 30 km north of Bamina who said they had fled bombing in the Sudanese cantons of Karnoi, Oungo, Karat and Dildela at the end of January. Most of them had few belongings, having left at short notice.
A refugee representative there estimated that 6,000 refugees were in the arid area, moving around in search of water. He added that some were heading towards Touloum, where they can receive aid at UNHCR's new site. The visiting team noted that the refugees appeared in good health, but were exhausted.
Also in the north, Chadian refugee agency CNAR estimated that another 4,500 refugees were scattered in the Bahai area. Local authorities said they had provided funds to buy oil and sorghum in an area where UNHCR staff reported seeing a lot of dead cattle, possibly from lack of fodder.
UNHCR has been unable to verify the estimated numbers in Bahai, but sent a second team there today to register the refugees and check a potential site for relocation, 88 km west of Bahai and 40 km north of Iriba.
So far, close to 4,000 Sudanese refugees have been relocated away from the insecure border area to two new sites - 2,191 have moved from the Tine area to Touloum transit centre, and another 1,699 from the Adré region to Farchana camp.
A third refugee site at Kounoungo is nearing completion, with the transit centre ready to receive the first of more than 5,000 refugees from the Birak border area in the next two days. UNHCR's German partner, Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), has started work on the actual camp part of Kounoungo, which should be operational within a week.
At the same time, the UN refugee agency and local Chadian authorities are continuing their search for more sites with water sources to relocate as many refugees as possible before the rainy season starts in May.