NGOs scale back as security deteriorates

MINURCAT convoy from Goz Beida to refugee camp in Goz Amir
(Phuong Tran/IRIN)

As the security situation continues to deteriorate in eastern Chad, some NGOs are scaling back and cutting services due to the risk of kidnapping.



Since the end of November, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has pulled its international staff out of a site in Dogdoré where 27,000 Chadians displaced from fighting are living. International MSF staff still visit the site every few weeks for several hours at a time, but do not stay overnight, its head of operations, Xavier Trompette, told IRIN.



“The nature of incidents has changed and we feel exposed. We are not reassured about the security situation, so we have taken our [expatriates] out,” said Trompette. “This means there is a deterioration in the quality of care we can offer.” He added that MSF has discontinued its mobile health clinics.



In November a government official working with Darfur refugees and an NGO driver were killed, and a French agronomist working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was kidnapped. ICRC has suspended most of its activities in the east.



The non-profit Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) will no longer post international staff to Goz Beida, 220 km south of the aid hub town Abéché, as of January 2010. “We are going onto a remote control project, which means we don’t have an [expatriate] running it. It’s run only by national staff,” country director Samuel Cumpsty told IRIN. The NGO’s engineer based in Abéché will go on short trips to visit water projects in Goz Beida.



“We’re not comfortable because most of our engineers come from France and we know the kidnap risk is particularly high,” said Cumpsty. He said ACTED is evaluating whether to withdraw completely from the east.



UN agencies and dozens of NGOs are providing services to more than half a million refugees and displaced Chadians in the east.



MINURCAT attack



The UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) said in November that despite an increase in attacks on humanitarian vehicles in recent months, no military-escorted convoy had been targeted. But on 20 December, four plain clothed armed men along the road from Goz Beida to Koukou Angarana in southeastern Chad commandeered at gunpoint one of three civilian vehicles in a MINURCAT logistics convoy travelling with a local security escort, according to MINURCAT.



While UN agencies are required to use military escorts when traveling outside cities, escorts have been optional for NGO partners.



The head of International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Chad, Philipe Adapoe, told IRIN that IRC is being forced to reconsider its stance against travelling with armed escorts, which some NGOs say compromise their neutrality.



“Humanitarian principles [or non-association with armed groups] are one thing, but this situation is going beyond principles. We know there are not enough soldiers to provide [sufficient] escorts. For us the question is: is the current system capable of giving us the security we need to allow us to continue?” said Adapoe.



MINURCAT’s deputy commander, Ger Aherne, told IRIN no security force can alone guarantee security in an area where “one of the biggest problems here is impunity and the footprint of the state is not seen strongly enough in the east.”



The government’s military representative to NGOs, Yaya Oki Dagashe, dismissed concerns of banditry and said the national army is in complete control of the region.



ch/pt/aj

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