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No big new influx of Darfur refugees yet, despite fresh fighting

[Chad] Aid workers hope education will help ease the trauma for Darfuri children in refugee camps in Chad. Iridimi camp, September 2004.
Darfuri children in a refugee camp in Chad (Claire Soares/IRIN)

Despite fears of a major new influx of refugees fleeing civil war in Sudan's Darfur region, only a trickle of people have entered the string of refugee camps located in the arid wastes of eastern Chad in recent weeks, aid officials told IRIN on Wednesday.

Because of continued fighting in Darfur between rebel troops and pro-government militia, UN officials had warned early this month that Chad’s refugee population of 200,000 could rise by as much as a third, with 100,000 new entrants seeking shelter in the coming weeks.

But aid officials said that to date there were relatively few newcomers to the 11 camps strung out over hundreds of kilometres of inhospitable terrain along the border with western Sudan. The situation in terms of housing, food and water therefore remained stable.

“What we’re seeing is the arrival of spontaneous refugees, perhaps up to 200 a week, some of them possibly reuniting with relatives,” Alexandre Galley of the German government aid agency GTZ, told IRIN from the capital N’Djamena.

In Abeche, the main town in eastern Chad, an official of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said recent arrivals to the camps appeared to be people previously living in difficult conditions along the border, who finally had decided to seek assistance.

“We’re currently monitoring exactly where the new refugees are from,” he added.

The coordinator of UN World Food Programme (WFP) in eastern Chad, Jean-Charles Dei, told IRIN by telephone from N'Djamena that his agency was awaiting the results of an UNHCR survey of the latest arrivals. In the meantime, WFP was still preparing for a massive inflow of refugees from Sudan.

“We’re ready in case!” he said.

The UNHCR said in Geneva this week that the latest phase of an emergency airlift had enabled it to build up a contingency stock of relief items for up to 50,000 potential new arrivals, over and above the 200,000 already housed in camps in Chad.

The conflict in western Sudan has been running for nearly two years since Darfur rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government, alleging it had neglected the region. They accuse Khartoum of using the Janjawid, an Arab militia which raids villages riding horses and camels, to put down the rebellion. They also claim that the government, through the Janjawid, is waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Arabs in Darfur.

Although both sides in the Darfur conflict signed a ceasefire in April and a security and humanitarian accord in November, a new round of peace talks in Abuja this month broke down amid escalating violence and multiple ceasefire violations. The government and the two main rebel movements in Darfur are due to meet again in the Nigerian capital in January.

The WFP this week suspended its relief convoys inside Darfur amid fresh fighting between rebels and pro-government forces. Save The Children UK recently pulled out of the region after four of its staff were killed there.

More than 1.85 million people have been either internally displaced or have fled to Chad and tens of thousands of villagers have been killed or have died of famine and disease since the conflict began, according to the United Nations.

Cyrille Niameogo, the acting UN humanitarian coordinator for Chad, told IRIN earlier this month that almost US$183 million would be required next year to help the refugees from Darfur, as well as the local people living alongside them.

“If the crisis isn’t resolved quickly, we fear a new influx of refugees,” Niameogo said. “The hypothesis we’re working on is another 100,000 people.”

Senior UN officials described Darfur as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis before a tidal wave unleashed by an earthquake beneath the Indian Ocean devastated coastal communities last weekend.

Current estimates indicate that the tsunami killed over 60,000 people and made millions homeless. Most of the damage and loss of life ocurred in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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