Between an IDP camp and unsafe home

MINURCAT forces patrol Ade in eastern Chad, one of the areas the UN has identified as a potential returnee site for IDPs
(Celeste Hicks/IRIN)

The UN Refugee Agency is colour-coding villages red, yellow and green in eastern Chad marking how safe it is for internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return home: people from areas classified as green – “safe” – will no longer be considered as IDPs, but can remain in the camps.

“People won’t be forced to go home; they have a right to live wherever they want,” Jose Fischel, UNHCR’s head of office in the eastern Chad town of Goz Beida, told IRIN. “But as long as the reasons which forced them to flee are no longer there, there is no longer a reason to consider them as IDPs.”

Almost 170,000 people displaced by fighting in eastern Chad still live in tents – some who have been displaced for years. All together nearly half a million people have sought shelter in eastern Chad from fighting within the country and in neighbouring Sudan and Central African Republic.

UNHCR’s Fischel told IRIN that displaced people from villages deemed safe for return will no longer receive food or other supplies like mats, kettles and jerry cans. But they will still have a right to the camp school, health services and water points, he said.

The refugee agency estimates that 15,000 IDPs have already left the camps, mostly to return to areas south of Goz Beida that are ranked green in the new security grading system: Loboutigué, Kerfi and Angarana. While people have returned to villages near the border with Sudan, few have approached Adé, located directly on the border.

Khadija Yusuf Hassan, displaced since 2006 from Komo village near Adé, told IRIN she is scared to return. “I have heard that insecurity reigns over there on the border. We heard from other people who go there that there are attacks, thefts, cars being stolen.”

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) peacekeeping force – which has a mandate until March 2010 to encourage people to return home by improving security – is preparing to shift troops from camps to villages.

“This does not mean we will neglect to go to the camps,” MINURCAT commanding officer for the Goz Beida region, Howard Berney, told IRIN. “But the general information we have is that the camps are safe now and it is possible to start refocusing our efforts.”

MINURCAT initially was to be a 5,200-strong force by December 2009, but deployment delays and insufficient equipment have led the UN to decrease the troop goal to 4,700. As of August 2,368 MINURCAT troops were in Chad and Central African Republic.

Halime Nassir told IRIN she cannot go home with her four children to Kerfi, south of Goz Beida, because of safety concerns – but she does not feel safe at the camp either.

“There is still conflict around the camps when women go out to collect extra wood and water. There is not enough for us here. Almost every day we hear that someone has been attacked; some women are raped. I do not feel safe here in the camp. I will not feel safe [either] if I…go home.”

While rebel attacks are still a threat in Chad, MINURCAT’s Berney said banditry is his main concern in many villages.

Hassan Yassim Bakar, local leader in the town of Adé, said security is improved in the area but not enough and that could discourage returns. “They [would-be returnees] will not want to stay and help us [rebuild the community] if they do not think it is safe.”


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