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Thousands of Chadian refugees flee to Darfur

[Chad] UN officials say at least another 100,000 Darfur refugees will likely join the 200,000 already in Chad before the next rainy season begins in May. Most are women and children. Oure Cassoni camp, September 2004.
Claire Soares/IRIN

Thousands of people fleeing conflict in Chad have sought refuge in Sudan's western region of Darfur despite the humanitarian crisis there, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Thursday.

An estimated 20,000 Chadians have sought refuge in West Darfur since 2005, while 16,000 had opted to remain close to the border to access their land. “These people are fleeing the conflict in their country to camps in West Darfur where there is food and security," said Annette Rehrl, UNHCR spokeswoman in Sudan.

Conflict in Darfur has displaced at least two million people since fighting between insurgents and the Sudanese government erupted in 2003. About 230,000 Sudanese refugees are sheltered in camps and along border areas in eastern Chad.

"Every day we get 50 new arrivals from Chad and over the weekend we moved a group of over 200 Chadian refugees from the volatile Chad-Sudan border area to a UNHCR refugee camp in West Darfur," UNHCR said in a statement. The refugees were moved in a convoy of 14 lorries from the border village of Arara for Um Shalaya camp near Mornei, 75km from the frontier. A second convoy is expected to depart on Thursday en route to Um Shalaya.

The new arrivals at Um Shalaya are part of a bigger group of 550 Chadians in Darfur who have requested to be moved away from the border because of insecurity. "The refugees have so far made no impact on the humanitarian situation in Darfur and are receiving basics like food and medical services," Rehrl said.

There are two camps for Chadian refugees in West Darfur, Um Shalaya and a smaller one in Mukjar, 190km southwest of El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur.

Civilians in Chad have suffered from persistent attacks by armed militias in the east of the country, along the volatile border with Darfur, since 2005. Last year, fighting between government and rebel forces escalated after high-ranking military officers joined rebel forces following President Idriss Deby’s decision to amend the Chadian constitution to run for a third term. The unrest has displaced about 120,000 people inside Chad.

Meanwhile, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Sir John Holmes, arrived in Sudan for talks with senior government officials, UN officials and representatives of non-governmental organisations, civil society and donor governments.

"Until there is peace in Darfur, we need all parties to do their best to ensure the humanitarian effort goes forward unimpeded," UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said in Khartoum on Thursday

"Until there is peace in Darfur, we need all parties to do their best to ensure the humanitarian effort goes forward unimpeded," Holmes said after meeting various officials in Khartoum.

"I am sure we can resolve these problems in the spirit of constructive partnership," he added. "We have had some useful discussions about the humanitarian situation in Darfur and I’m looking forward to going to the field and assessing the situation myself."

He will also travel to Juba, South Sudan's capital, Darfur, Chad and the Central African Republic during the two-week visit.

In a related development, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said insecurity in Darfur had seriously limited the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid.

In December 2006, about 20 armed men attacked several agency compounds, harassing staff and stealing vehicles, communication equipment and money in Gereida, South Darfur, forcing aid agencies to withdraw staff from the area. Gereida has the largest number of displaced people in the region.

"Over 120,000 people are stranded in the camp, in urgent need of food, water, healthcare, sanitation and waste disposal," said Jacques de Maio, head of ICRC operations in the Horn of Africa, urging donors to provide an additional 32 million Swiss francs (US$26.3 million) for ICRC's Darfur budget.


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