Report recommends refugee status for Chadians arriving in Darfur
GENEVA, 7 August (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency and its Sudanese governmental counterpart, the Commissioner for Refugees (COR), have recommended that thousands of new arrivals from Chad who crossed into Darfur in recent months be recognized by the government of Sudan as refugees.
The use of prima facie recognition - giving refugee status to the whole group, rather than requiring individual decisions - is the primary recommendation of a recent UNHCR-COR report. However, the report also specifies that refugee status should not be granted to active or former combatants who could be part of the group from Chad.
The joint recommendations follow months of in-depth field assessments by UNHCR and COR throughout West Darfur, and refer to interviews with newly-arrived refugees. UNHCR and COR estimate as many as 30,000 people have left Chad for Darfur in a steady flow since early this year.
The joint report states that most of the new arrivals are Arab nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes, but there are also some non-Arab tribes. Two-thirds of the group entered West Darfur around Foro Baranga, 200 kms south of El Geneina, the State capital. A large number settled along the Wadi Azoum river bed. They come from settlements along the Chad-Sudan border, with the majority originating from the Tiero, Marena, Mayo and Awinrado areas in south-eastern Chad.
"The fact is that nomads in Chad as well as nomads in Darfur who belong to Arab or semi-Arab tribes also get caught in the conflict and they suffer as well," said Chrysantus Ache, UNHCR Representative in Sudan. "Therefore, they also have a basic right to UNHCR's protection."
Families interviewed by the joint UNHCR and COR teams said they left Chad after armed men wearing military uniforms entered their homes, searching for weapons, and accused villagers of supporting and participating in militia activities.
"People interviewed said that searches often turned violent with looting, beatings, arrests, murders and in some cases rapes committed by these groups. In addition to the brutal searches, many families said they left Chad because of the general insecurity and fighting between governmental forces and opposition groups," said UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis.
"Most of the interviewees clearly indicated that they did not want to return to Chad because of the security situation," she said.
UNHCR and COR undertook several assessment missions to other arrival areas such as Mukjar, Mornei, Bindinsi, Um Dukhum, El Geneina and Krenek. New arrivals in those areas mentioned various reasons for fleeing eastern Chad, including the beating to death of several men after weapons searches took place, other killings, ongoing tribal fighting, and attacks on villages.
Given these conditions, Pagonis said UNHCR strongly believed that if this group of Chadians returned home their safety could be at stake. It recommended they be recognized as refugees as they satisfy the eligibility criteria under relevant articles of the 1969 OAU Convention and the 1974 Regulation of Asylum Act of Sudan.
Nomadic cross-border movements have existed for centuries in the region, with nomads moving back and forth with their livestock seeking water and grazing land. Some new arrivals mentioned scarce resources in Chad, especially water, as the main reason for leaving. However, the recent cross-border movements to Darfur are mainly motivated by insecurity in eastern Chad at the end of last year and the first part of this year.
The UNHCR-COR report also mentions that, upon their arrival in West Darfur, some families reported having been directed by local Sudanese tribesmen or local Sudanese leaders to occupy empty land, especially in the Wadi Azoum and Wadi Saleh areas. The land belongs to people who are now displaced in camps in Darfur or refugees in eastern Chad. The report recommends that the Sudanese government clarifies land ownership issues without delay, and ensures that owners of the land - mainly IDPs in Darfur and refugees in Chad - can return to their villages of origin when they feel it is safe.
The report underlines that most of the newly arrived do not appear to be in need of urgent food or material assistance. Most of the families arrived with their livestock and bags of sorghum, and have installed their portable shelters in the various locations in West Darfur.
However, UNHCR recommended that the most vulnerable people in the group receive a food ration. It also recommended the Minister of Health launch a vaccination campaign for children as soon as possible.
The report mentions that in some cases, the nationality of newly arriving people is not clear as some claim to be Sudanese who left their country in the 1980s because of a severe drought and had since lived in Chad. UNHCR and COR recommended that Sudanese authorities clarify the nationality of these people and any other groups who do not originate from Chad or Sudan.