New influx of 1,000 refugees from Central African Republic to southern Chad
N'Djamena, Chad, Jan. 27 (UNHCR) - Some 1,000 refugees from the increasingly lawless northern Central African Republic (CAR) have fled to neighbouring southern Chad over the past month. The refugees, mostly women and children, said they were fleeing attacks by rebels, bandits and government forces operating in the region.
There have been some 13,000 CAR refugee arrivals in Chad since last June. The latest wave began arriving in late December in the Chadian border town of Békoninga, 35 kms from the main southern Chad town of Goré. Many of them are from the northern CAR villages of Bémal, Markounda, Bossangoa, Bedam, Bekoto, and Nana-Bakassa. The refugees told UNHCR they fled increasing insecurity in northern CAR, including repeated attacks by various armed groups, summary executions, house burnings, and violent search operations conducted by the CAR military in their villages.
They described a scene of near total anarchy in the north, with various rebel factions and bandit gangs roaming the countryside. Some are affiliated with former president Félix Patassé. Others, former supporters of current President François Bozizé, have created their own armed factions and are now fighting against the government for control of the north. Patassé was overthrown in a coup by then General Bozizé in March 2003.
Refugees said they were targeted in violent attacks by all sides, and that rebels and bandits - or "coupeurs de route" - had been kidnapping children and demanding ransoms.
"There is a lot of suffering today in northern CAR," said Ana Liria-Franch, UNHCR's representative in Chad. "The international community needs to pay much more attention to this region, and find out what's really happening there so further displacement toward Chad can be prevented."
Earlier this month, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres cited the deteriorating situation in northern CAR as one of the world's most neglected and invisible humanitarian crises.
"Nobody speaks about it or reports on it and it is becoming a huge problem and a major tragedy - right in the centre of the African continent," Guterres told reporters at a January 12 press conference in Geneva.
"It is extremely difficult to draw international attention to this very serious problem," he said, adding that unrest in the CAR could also have serious repercussions on neighbouring countries such as Chad and Cameroon.
Staff from UNHCR and its Chadian partner CNAR (Commission nationale d'accueil et de réinsertion des réfugiés) conducted monitoring missions last week to verify the presence of the latest refugees and to register the new arrivals. A first group of 516 refugees (98 families) was relocated on Thursday this week to Gondjé refugee camp, 13 kms from Goré and 48 kms from the Chad/CAR border. Gondjé camp, which opened in December, is now hosting more than 3,000 people from CAR. About 500 refugees remain at the border and UNHCR is scheduled to relocate them next week.
"Refugees are still arriving in small groups, about 20 people a day," said George Menze, head of UNHCR field office in Goré. "We are doing our best to relocate them as quickly as possible in order to avoid the deterioration of their health and to minimize their impact on the limited resources of the local community."
While the health of the refugees is not alarming at this point, UNHCR and Médecins Sans Frontières-Holland found that some of the children were malnourished.
Since June 2005, more than 13,000 refugees from CAR have crossed over to southern Chad because of continuing insecurity. Any further influx from CAR could severely stretch UNHCR's capacity to provide protection and basic assistance to refugees in the south. The agency's current 2006 budget for its southern Chad operation is only US$3.4 million for 43,000 CAR refugees. They are located in three refugee sites at Yaroungou, Amboko and Gondjé. Most of them came to Chad in 2003 following the coup that overthrew then President Patassé.
UNHCR is also caring for more than 200,000 refugees from Sudan's Darfur region in 12 refugee camps in remote eastern Chad.
By Bernard Ntwarib in N'Djamena, Chad