refugees in Chad
200,000 civilians, many of them women and children, have crossed
tChad since 2003, fleeing the ongoing violence in the western
Sudanese province of Darfur. The refugees and the local populations
are sharing the region’s limited resources, but tensions
are rising as competition increases for food, firewood and
sudden influx of uninvited guests can tax even the most generous
host. When the hosts are among the world’s poorest people,
the visitors vastly outnumber them, and the newcomers have
no immediate plans to leave, you might expect trouble.
For the past two years, people in eastern Chad have played
host to nearly 200,000 people fleeing conflict in Darfur,
a region of neighbouring Sudan. Both hosts and guests come
from the same ethnic group, Massalit, speak the same language,
have the same customs. They are a people separated by a border.
Conditions in eastern Chad are hardly hospitable. It is in
the Sahel zone, a textbook example of survival in one of the
world’s most marginal regions. The land is arid, the
climate harsh. There are few trees. Dust covers the ground.
Perhaps surprisingly, villagers in eastern Chad have largely
accepted the 193,000 newcomers, who are among more than a
million people displaced since early 2003 by fighting between
rebel troops and pro-government militia in Darfur.
“The local population has been very generous to the
refugees until now,” says Eelko Brouwer, head of delegation
for the International Federation in Chad.
“We have to avoid a situation in which there are more
and more strains between the refugees and the local population,
where they compete for resources.”
Local Red Cross volunteer Ibrahim Jakob Barka
Adam (a refugee) weighs and measures children with a calm,
fatherly manner that reassures them. ©Rosemarie North
/ International Federation
for limited resources
Bredging is the name of a Red Cross-run refugee camp housing
28,500 Sudanese. It is also the name of a village of 960 people
just one kilometre away from the camp.
Refugees often fled in the middle of the night, with no time
to collect their belongings. They are totally dependent on
international aid for food, water and shelter. From Bredging
village, local people get a good view of life in the neighbouring
camp. They watch as the refugees benefit from schools where
children sit under canopies, adult literacy programmes, vocational
training, health education and fortnightly distributions of
food, all managed by the Red Cross.
“The refugees get food regularly,”says Haoua
Mahamat, a villager from Bredging. “That’s nice
for them. But we don’t have anyone who will give us
food. We have nothing. Everyone is suffering.”
It also rankles with villagers that refugees forage for straw
from their land.
“Refugees use some of the straw to feed their animals
and the rest they sell at the market,” Mahamat says.
“Our animals are dying of starvation because we don’t
have the money to buy the straw.”
In effect, villagers are now forced to pay for straw they
had considered their own before the refugees arrived.
Perhaps the greatest strain is over firewood. Inevitably,
43,000 refugees from camps including two run by the Red Cross,
Bredging and Tréguine, home to 14,500 refugees, are
foraging for firewood in the same dry landscape that was used
by about 10,000 local villagers.
“Before the refugees arrived it was easy to get wood
to prepare meals, says Fatimé Ibrahim Adam, 44. “Since
their arrival all of the wood has gone. We have to walk three
to four hours to the mountains to find wood.”
In a neighbourhood of Bredging camp, Mariam Ahmat Idriss,
35, is trying to make ends meet for herself and her five children,
aged 5 to 16, on her own. Mariam lost her husband, her brother,
and her brother’s two sons, aged 15 and 16 in Darfur.
Mariam says she is desperate to earn money so she can buy
meat and vegetables to supplement the ration that is supplied
by the World Food Programme and distributed every two weeks
by Chad Red Cross volunteers and staff.
“On the day of the food distribution I went to see
if there was any work,” Mariam says in a resigned voice.
“There wasn’t any. So I have been looking for
firewood to sell at the market.
“But it’s risky. The local people caught me and
took away my axe. They said, ‘don’t cut down our
trees.’ So it creates problems when you look for wood.
Three months ago two young men from a village caught an elderly
refugee cutting firewood. They attacked her, slashing her
face with a knife. Refugees don’t have much choice when
it comes to cooking fuel. The Red Cross is working in partnership
with other agencies to find an alternative to wood, but there
are no obvious solutions.
Food is also a problem. The International Federation estimates
that more than a third of local people are undernourished.
That is a higher ratio than in the camps. In fact, during
a distribution of a calorie-rich supplement to more than 3,500
children, and pregnant or breastfeeding women in six villages
around the camps in May, two severely malnourished children
were discovered. They were taken by ambulance to Adré,
a town about two hours’ drive away to an emergency feeding
programme run by Médecins Sans Frontières.
There are two main reasons for distributing food to the local
population, says Matanda Sadrack, International Federation
“First, people in the local population are badly off.
They don’t have a lot of resources themselves. So the
first reason is humanitarian. The second reason is security.
It doesn’t make sense for us to hand out everything
to refugees living so close to people who are struggling for
The day after the distribution, Halima Brahim, 19, from Hadjer
Hadid town, brings her baby, Zamzam, 11 months, to a nutrition
clinic run by the Red Cross in Tréguine camp. Refugees
and villagers alike can use the clinic. Although underweight
for his age, Zamzam has been making good progress during the
several weeks that he has been coming every Monday to the
clinic, says Halima.
Among the volunteers working at the clinic is Djouma Ahamat
Gamaradine, 28, a farmer from Darfur and a father of four.
“I myself am a refugee and I want to work to help mothers
and fathers. A week or so after coming here, the babies can
be much healthier. That’s a good feeling.”
To provide the refugees with safe water, the non-governmental
organization Oxfam is digging new water wells for the camps
(and later hands them over to camp managers). Oxfam spokesperson
Cedric Fedida says that nevertheless, in many areas, the water
tables are dropping.
“There are tensions already between the local population
and the refugees, which was not the case in the beginning,
because the local population think there are a lot of refugees
to share the resource with. After a while, it may become too
Acknowledging the problem of water for the local population,
the ICRC decided to install a water pump to improve water
supply in the town of Abeché, says Marcel Stoessel,
head of Abeché sub-delegation for the ICRC.
“Abeché became the humanitarian capital of eastern
Chad. Water consumption increased there because of the presence
of humanitarian actors and also because of the presence of
people who came to work for them in fields such as construction.”
Water is now available 24 hours a day, an increase of about
40 per cent. And the ICRC is also working on water projects
in the towns of Iriba, Tiné and Adré, which
are near refugee populations.
quick, easy solution
Tensions will probably remain as the refugees are unlikely
to return home soon, says Claire Bourgeois, United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees deputy representative in Abeché.
“Our planning is based on what we are hearing, what
we are seeing. Most of the authorities say the refugees are
here for a long time — three to four years, even five
years. So certainly we are planning for two more years because
the peace process is taking a long time.”
So in spite of tensions over firewood or water, people need
to find a way to live together peacefully. That message is
understood in Bredging village. “We are like brother
and sister. We have to share. We are the same people separated
by a border,” says Haoua Mahamat.
Bredging village headman, Abdoulaye Ibrahim Djibrine, 47,
says, “There are lots of difficulties, but we support
the refugees. Although there’s not much room for them
here, we have to live together.”
Rosemarie North travelled to Hadjer Hadid, eastern Chad
for the International Federation.