Insecurity hampers access to refugees, displaced in east

Growing insecurity in eastern Chad is limiting aid workers’ access to refugees and displaced Chadians, aid workers say.



Rebels and government troops recently clashed in eastern Chad and armed banditry – long a problem in the region – is on the rise, including the fatal shooting of a UN-trained national policeman on 13 May.



The UN-trained Chadian police force, known as DIS (Détachement intégré de sécurité), had been escorting some humanitarian convoys but reduced these operations after armed groups began targeting DIS.



“The increase in criminal acts is compromising the efficiency of operations, the protection of civilians and humanitarian access,” the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Chad said in a 19 May report.



The UN mission, MINURCAT, is now organising escorts for humanitarian workers but its capacity to do so is limited, largely because of a fuel shortage, MINURCAT spokesperson Michel Bonnardeaux told IRIN.



“There is a problem of assuring these escorts. As it is, Chad is a complex setting logistically, and it is worsened right now by the fuel problem,” he said.



David Cibonga, head of OCHA’s sub-office in the main eastern town of Abéché, said: “Humanitarian convoys and escorts in certain places are a vital necessity for the movement of aid staff to refugee camps and IDP sites, in the current setting in which banditry is increasing.”



He added: “A solution is urgently needed in order to preserve humanitarian space and permit access to aid beneficiaries.”



Camps across eastern Chad – housing more than 400,000 refugees and IDPs – have stocks of food and other humanitarian supplies so a few days without access does not have a grave impact, but it does disrupt operations, aid workers say.



“Our main objective in this period is prepositioning food and [other aid supplies] for the refugees because the rainy season is approaching,” said one UN aid worker in Chad who requested anonymity. “Any delay on that is bad.”



“We also need to supply our field offices with fuel, water and other items. If we have no escort we cannot send [our staff] what they need.”



While NGOs do not face the same security restrictions as UN aid workers, some have relied on DIS-escorted convoys for some of their travel and are also concerned about access.



“This new insecurity is a worrisome development,” Anne Wood, head of CARE International in Chad, told IRIN. “As of 14 May DIS is not providing the normal armed escorts in Iriba , Farchana and Goz Beida and we are now dependent on MINURCAT forces. Not only is availability limited , thus restricting our access to the camps, but it is a dilemma as NGOs are generally reluctant to accept this type of assistance from international forces.”



Most NGOs see military escorts as an absolute last resort, as they are at pains to preserve their mandate of providing independent, impartial humanitarian assistance.



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