Chadians fleeing Libya return to oasis of calm

News Stories, 18 April 2011

© UNHCR /B.Abdoulaye
Thousands of Chadians have arrived back in Faya, northern Chad, after fleeing Libya.

FAYA, Chad, April 18 (UNHCR) Thousands of Chadians have returned to northern Chad after fleeing the unrest in neighbouring Libya and braving a long journey through one of the most hostile terrains on earth.

The UN refugee agency has registered more than 4,500 Chadians who arrived in Faya in northern Chad since March 28. Authorities who control the border post believe that up to 8,000 people have passed through this oasis town in the last month. Some 300 are still arriving every day, and thousands more are believed to be on their way.

"We are happy to be back in Chad, but we have lost everything," said Hamdan Yaya Abakar, a 40-year-old who had been working in Libya. "In Tripoli I was selling bricks and making other small trade. When the trouble started, many Chadians were arrested. I spent seven days in prison before I could escape. Then I fled with my brothers."

Others said they fled violence, intimidation and harassment in the Libyan towns of Benghazi, Sebha and Kouffrah.

Within Libya, Hamdan's convoy had to cross several road blocks where passengers were robbed of most of their money and goods. Many also said they were beaten or harassed by Libyan rebels or bandits, as Chadians were openly suspected of being mercenaries paid by the Libyan government to counter the uprising.

Under the scorching sun, they endured three weeks or more of an uncomfortable journey on rickety trucks, perched on top of heaps of luggage, jerry cans and rolled-up mattresses. They travelled 1,000 km to reach the safety of their own country, crossing parched landscapes in the Sahara desert with only a few jerry cans of water. Some took a detour through Niger to avoid a mined area in northern Chad, entering Chad through the western town of Zouar. Smaller groups entered through eastern Chad via Ounianga Kebir in the Ennedi region.

Every day, more trucks pull into Faya, unloading famished and exhausted passengers in this hitherto sleepy town of 2,000 people. The challenge is to avoid congesting and straining the extremely limited local structures and capacity.

The UN refugee agency was one of the first to respond to this growing wave of returning Chadians. It sent trucks with tents, plastic sheets and jerry cans from its field office in Bahai, about 800 km to the south-east near the Sudanese border. A team of seven staff was deployed to open a registration centre that fills up for hours with each arriving truck.

Most returning Chadians are living with local families or in public buildings. Some others squat with their meagre belongings at the edge of the town. A transit camp is currently being prepared with tents, food and sanitation facilities.

The Chadian Ministry of Social Affairs has put up some emergency tents and distributed food. Prices of basic commodities such as rice and bread have almost doubled, as has the price of private transportation.

Most of the "returnees" come from other parts of Chad, such as Kanem, N'Djamena, Ouaddai, Bol and Bar-el-Ghazel. Almost half of them are believed to have already left town, carrying on to their final destination. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is organizing onward transportation for the most vulnerable individuals by road or by air.

While the vast majority of arrivals in Faya are Chadian young men who were living and working in Libya, there are now an increasing number of Chadian women and children fleeing as the situation in Libya deteriorates.

Among the arrivals are a few cases of Sudanese refugees from the Darfur region registered in Chad, and one asylum-seeker. No Libyan refugees have been registered so far, but the Chadian authorities have identified two sites near Faya in anticipation of possible refugee arrivals.

There are also some third country nationals from Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali and Sudan, whom IOM will assist home upon request.

By Delphine Marie in Faya, northern Chad

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New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

Since January 2014, a funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations by 60 per cent in refugee camps in southern Chad. The reduction comes as thousands of refugees from Central African Republic (CAR) continue to arrive in the south - more than 14,000 of them since the beginning of 2014. Many arrive sick, malnourished and exhausted after walking for months in the bush with little food or water. They join some 90,000 other CAR refugees already in the south - some of them for years.

The earlier refugees have been able to gain some degree of self-reliance through agriculture or employment, thus making up for some of the food cuts. But the new arrivals, fleeing the latest round of violence in their homeland, are facing a much harsher reality. And many of them - particularly children - will struggle to survive because WFP has also been forced cut the supplemental feeding programmes used to treat people trying to recover from malnutrition.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

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Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

A funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations in refugee camps in eastern Chad by up to 60 per cent. As a result, Sudanese refugees in 13 camps in the east now receive about 850 calories per day, down from the minimum ration of 2,100 calories daily they used to get. The refugees are finding it difficult to cope. Clinics in the area report a significant spike in malnutrition cases, with rates as high as 19.5 per cent in Am Nabak camp.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

In the meantime, the refugees experiencing ration cuts have few options. Poor soil quality, dry conditions and little access to water mean they can't plant supplemental crops as refugees in the less arid south of Chad are able to do. To try to cope, many refugee women in eastern Chad are leaving the camps in search of work in surrounding towns. They clean houses, do laundry, fetch water and firewood and work as construction labourers. Even so, they earn very little and often depend on each other for support. In the town of Iriba, for example, some 50 refugee women sleep rough each night under a tree and share their some of their meagre earnings to pay for a daily, communal meal.

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Ration cuts can have an impact far beyond health, reverberating through the entire community. It is not uncommon for children to be pulled out of school on market days in order to work. Many refugees use a portion of their food rations to barter for other essentials, or to get cash to pay school fees or buy supplies for their children. Small business owners like butchers, hairdressers and tailors - some of them refugees - also feel the pinch.

WFP supplies food to some 240,500 Sudanese refugees in the camps of eastern Chad. Many have been in exile for years and, because of their limited opportunities for self-sufficiency, remain almost totally dependent on outside help. The ration cuts have made an already difficult situation much worse for refugees who were already struggling.

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UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

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