On the border in Chad
by Gauthier Lefevre
Some 110,000 Sudanese civilians, many
of them women and children, have crossed the border into Chad
since last year, fleeing the violence in the western province
of Darfur. Every day more people seek refuge in a region where
water is scarce, basic infrastructure is lacking and access
Six-year-old Fatme has arrived in Chad after walking for
five nights. She fled her home in the Sudanese province of
Darfur January 2004, along with her mother, aunt, and seven
brothers and sisters all under the age of 14. Her father,
a schoolteacher, and two of her uncles were killed when fighting
between government forces and rebels from the Sudan Liberation
Army erupted in her village.
Some 110,000 refugees from Darfur are living along the 500-kilometre
border between Chad and Sudan. Most refugees are staying in
scattered towns and villages along the border and are living
under very difficult conditions. There is a lack of food,
clean water and shelter.
The newcomers relied on distributions of food and non-food
aid from United Nations (UN) agencies and, more importantly,
on the generosity of local Chadians. This is especially true
in the northern areas around the villages of Tine and Bahay,
where Zaghawa communities on both sides of the border have
enjoyed strong ties for centuries, and last year's harvest
produced a small excess.
Cases of malnutrition have been few, but a sharp rise was
reported in early March as food reserves were exhausted. But
slowly the situation has changed. After one month of camping
in precarious conditions, separated from Sudanese military
by only a few hundred metres and a dry riverbed, Fatme and
her family climbed aboard one of 20 Chad Red Cross trucks
donated by the Norwegian Red Cross to facilitate relief operations
in the east.
Over two days, the Red Cross transferred Fatme and 260 other
refugees to a camp in Kounoungo, 100 kilometres south of Tine.
Organized by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR) in response to the growing pressures
on water and sanitation facilities, this transfer was the
first of many that took place with the help of Red Cross volunteers.
A Sudanese refugee family arrives in Chad after
crossing the frontier to escape attacks by militiamen, 27
©Reuters / Antony Njuguna, Courtesy www.alertnet.org
shelter and water
The difficulty of finding water in sufficient quantities
delayed the opening of camps to accommodate the refugee population
and distribute humanitarian aid. By the beginning of March,
less than 10,000 had been settled in the three camps already
operating at Farchana, Touloum and Kounoungo in eastern Chad.
On average, only one in three drillings produce a usable water
source, a difficulty that has forced UNHCR to plan on opening
as many as eight camps.
In the southern region, the large number of cattle that the
refugees were able to bring with them compounds the problem.
Initially the camp in Farchana was planned to house some 12,000
refugees. Currently, only 2,000 are settled there with double
that number of cattle. In the arid north, water is harder
still to find, but few refugees have any cattle.
Thirty-year-old Mahamat came to Chad in February with his
mother, grandmother and ten siblings. His father owned 100
cows, 70 sheep and 55 camels before he was killed in the attack
on his village in January, and a large part of his herd was
stolen. Most of the rest died along the way of thirst, hunger
and exhaustion. "Today, we have just two donkeys left,"
says Mahamat, "but they will be dead by tomorrow."
The response of the international community has been strong.
As many as 13 non-governmental organizations have partnered
with UNHCR to provide assistance to the refugees, and 11 others
have conducted assessments. "The Red Cross has assumed
an important role in the transport side of the operation,
in agreement with UNHCR," says Roger Aubé, programme
coordinator in N'Djamena for the International Federation.
The Red Cross of Chad has been present since the beginning
of the emergency, and is steadily increasing its capacity
in the region. Its volunteers have played a key role in accompanying
the refugees as they are relocated from their temporary settlements
along the border to the camps set up by the UNHCR.
Mahamat Djabo Abouna heads the 20-strong team of Chad Red
Cross volunteers based in Adre, who are participating in the
relocation effort to Farchana camp. "The refugees have
been through a terrible ordeal," he says. "It is
our role to reassure, help and explain how they will be taken
care of. We give the whole relief effort a human face."
On arrival at the camps, volunteers distribute food and water,
and offer advice as the refugees go through the lengthy process
of medical screening, registration and then being given food
and non-food aid.
The Red Cross of Chad is teaming up with UN partners to respond
to the Sudanese refugee crisis.
©Gauthier Lefevre / International Federation
The appeal launched by the International Federation in December
2003 has mobilized the Movement. Twenty trucks landed in the
capital, N'Djamena, in February, donated by the Norwegian
Red Cross. By the end of the month 14 of them had begun operating,
carrying 45 tonnes of drilling equipment for Norwegian Church
Other sister National Societies have also reacted swiftly
to the emergency. The Spanish Red Cross, which has been implementing
programmes in Darfur for some time, and the French Red Cross,
which has just completed a water and sanitation project in
several schools in N'Djamena, both sent assessment missions.
This assistance has reinforced the Chad Red Cross's partnership
with the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations working
in the area. After a successful collaboration in the south
of the country last year in assisting 60,000 refugees from
the Central African Republic, the Red Cross and UN agencies
are once again teaming up to respond to the Sudanese refugee
The next big challenge will be the arrival of the rainy season
in June. Indeed, while the refugee situation is not catastrophic
and the work of all those involved in the operation is starting
to have an impact on the ground, once the rains come weather
conditions will change the situation. Access to the affected
areas is already difficult, and will become nearly impossible
for three months from June to August, when torrential rains
make the wadis treacherous and the tracks all but disappear
for the season.
"We are racing against the clock to set up all the camps,
gather the refugee population into accessible sites, and pre-position
supplies before June," says Yvan Sturm, who heads UNHCR
operations in Abeche,
But not all the refugees will have settled in a camp by the
time the rainy season arrives. Some have already chosen not
to move and prefer to remain on the border even in precarious
conditions. The nomadic lifestyle of many of the refugee groups
does not fit in well with living in a camp, even temporarily.
Others have close family and friendship ties where they have
settled. Others still are hoping to return to their country
sooner rather than later and will stay as close to it as they
can. "We cannot go back there until it is peaceful and
safe for us to raise our families," says 40-year-old
Osman Adam Abdallah, who lost his wife and two sons. "Here
we can receive aid from the international community until
the conditions are right for us to return to Darfur."
The UNHCR plans to bring up to 45,000 refugees into its camps.
Meanwhile, efforts are being made to provide humanitarian
assistance at the border, despite the difficulty of access
during the rainy season. This is no doubt where the Chad Red
Cross will be particularly effective.
Gauthier Lefevre is an independent journalist based in Paris.
Top | Contact
Us | Credits | Previous
issue | Webmaster
| ©2004 | Copyright