Cameroon: Many Chadians feel return is not yet safe

Briefing Notes, 26 February 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 26 February 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

An Ilyushin-76 cargo plane chartered by UNHCR is getting ready to leave tomorrow (Wednesday) from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Garoua in Cameroon 800 km north of the capital Yaoundé. The plane will transport 40 tonnes of relief items for distribution to thousands of Chadian refugees who have fled earlier this month from the Chadian capital N'Djamena to the town of Kousséri, on the Cameroon side of the Chari river.

This is the third airlift organized by UNHCR with relief items for Chadian refugees in Cameroon. Two similar flights took place earlier this month from Dubai to Garoua, bringing 90 tonnes of much-needed relief items such as blankets, sleeping mats, kitchen sets, jerry cans and soap. The plane on Wednesday will also carry water bladders and tents. Relief assistance will be transported by trucks from Garoua to Maltam 1 refugee camp, 32 km away from Kousséri.

In Kousséri, we now have transported 5,523 Chadian refugees from Madana transit site, churches and schools in town to Maltam 1 camp. Additional convoys are scheduled for the coming days. In total, 4,600 families comprising around 20,000 persons have registered with UNHCR and indicated their intention to stay for the time being in Cameroon.

Up to 30,000 Chadians fled unrest in N'Djamena earlier this month and found refuge in Kousséri. Although many have gone back to their homes in the Chadian capital, many others do not feel that it is completely safe to do so.




UNHCR country pages

Portraits of Darfur's Refugees

Nearly 200,000 refugees, the majority of them women and children, have fled across the border from Sudan into Chad since the outbreak of conflict in Sudan's Darfur region in March 2003. The refugees have left behind their homes and often loved ones in Darfur, where militias have reportedly killed and raped villagers, looted and burned houses and possessions and driven people from their homes.

Most of the refugees in eastern Chad are sheltered in 11 camps established by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, where they receive humanitarian aid, shelter, water and basic services.

Life in the camps is not easy in the desert environment of eastern Chad, where water and firewood are extremely scarce. Sandstorms are a regular feature during the dry months and torrential rains flood the landscape in the wet season.

Yet in the faces of the refugees, dignity and hope remain in spite of the hardships and the violence they have suffered.

Portraits of Darfur's Refugees

Chad: Relocation from the Border to Refugee Camps

Since fighting broke out in Sudan's western region of Darfur last year, more than 110,000 Sudanese refugees have fled into Chad. They are scattered along a 600-km stretch of desert borderland under a scorching sun during the day and freezing temperatures during the night.

Access to these refugees in this inhospitable region is difficult. Staff of the UN refugee agency drive for days to locate them. Bombing in the border zone and cross-border raids by militia from Sudan put the refugees at risk and underscore the urgent need to move them to camps in the interior. In addition, the approach of the rainy season in May will make the sandy roads impassable. Aid workers are racing against time in an attempt bring emergency relief to these refugees.

Chad: Relocation from the Border to Refugee Camps

Camp Life in Eastern Chad

Faced with nearly 200,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur fleeing into the barren desert of eastern Chad, the UN refugee agency has essentially had to build small villages – including shelter, latrines, water supply and basic services – to accommodate the refugees and help them survive in a hostile natural environment with scarce local resources. The 11 camps set up so far shelter more than 166,000 refugees from Darfur.

While much work still needs to be done, especially to find sufficient water in the arid region, life in the camps has reached a certain level of normalcy, with schools and activities starting up and humanitarian aid regularly distributed to the residents. Meanwhile, UNHCR continues to improve services and living conditions in the existing camps and is working to set up new camps to take in more refugees from the ongoing violence in Darfur.

Camp Life in Eastern Chad

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The nations surrounding Lake Chad, one of Africa's largest freshwater lakes, are seeing an insurgency that began in Nigeria spread to their shores,. The total number of people in the region who have either fled across borders to escape violence, or been made homeless in their own countries, has now reached over 2.5 million people.
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Cameroon: Escape from Nigeria

Attacks by Nigerian insurgents have spread to neighbouring countries in recent months, severely restricting the 'humanitarian space' aid organisations, like UNHCR, can operate in to help people made homeless by the unrest. The insurgents have also recently mounted a series of suicide attacks in Cameroon - the first such attacks in the country.