CAR refugees not ready to return home

[Chad] CAR refugee at Gondje camp, southern Chad. [Date picture taken: 05/29/2006]
CAR refugee at Gondje camp, southern Chad (Nicholas Reader/IRIN)

Around 6,000 refugees from Central African Republic have arrived in the Goré region of Southern Chad over the last two months. Some of them say categorically that they will never go home, and that if insecurity spreads to the south of Chad, they will then go elsewhere.

The Dosseye camp, one of the three refugee camps set up by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), not far from Goré, is where new arrivals are sent to. The growing number of new tents here, set up between basic huts constructed by less recent refugees, shows the influx of new arrivals fleeing from child kidnappings for ransom, pillaging and violence.

"We were living in the bush but could no longer stay there because roaming bandits were stealing our livestock", said a newly arrived refugee and member of the Peul community - like the majority of refugees who have arrived over the last few months. "When we ran to the villages it was worse, the military and rebels would take us and tie us up. We had to give them money or they would have killed us".

"Because we’re from the bush they accuse us of collaborating with the roaming bandits, but they have stolen from us too", protested an old woman. "We used to keep bullocks, but the bandits took them, so we turned to farming but they stole from us again, that is why we left".

"We will never go back"

Being the victims of pillaging, physical violence or child kidnapping for ransom has become a daily occurrence for people in the north of CAR. Some of these refugees have said that there was no question of returning for them, whatever the situation there.


Photo: Nicholas Reader/IRIN
Refugees from CAR push home food rations at Gondje refugee camp, near Gore, southern Chad

"We will never go back", a refugee from Dosseye said categorically, the other camp residents around her agreed. "We suffered too much there [in CAR]. We will stay here and if the south of Chad is no longer safe for us, we will go to Cameroon".

There are around 12,000 refugees at Amboko camp, most of who came to Chad in 2003 following the violence that broke out when current CAR President François Bozizé took power. Some residents hope to be able to return one day, but not to their home region.

"Maybe I will go back to CAR one day if it becomes safe again, but if I go back I’ll go to [the capital] Bangui, I wouldn’t want to stay in the north", said a woman in her forties. She added that, either way, she wasn’t planning to do so in the immediate future.

Integration rather than repatriation

UNHCR and Chad’s national refugee authority (CNAR) who look after refugees and their integration, have noticed that due to ongoing insecurity in the north of CAR and the impracticality or refusal of refugees to return, the tendency is more for people to be integrated locally, rather than be repatriated.

"We haven’t got any choice, some refugees have been here for four or five years now and others continue to come", said Mari Sveen, a UNHCR protection officer in Goré.

Repatriation is a long process, which starts with security being re-established in the refugee’s country of origin. Rehabilitation and reconstruction of destroyed infrastructures follows, but humanitarian workers on the ground do not believe that these conditions have been fulfilled at this time.

Over the last few years, the arrival of huge numbers of CAR refugees in the south of Chad has been linked to particular events in CAR – coups d’etat, or attempts at them, or confrontations between rebels and army forces.

That situation has changed. In a recent report, UNHCR expressed concern that "over the last year, the arrival of CAR refugees in the south of Chad is not due to an incident or a trigger event, but more due to the result of permanent insecurity in the northern region of CAR".

John Holmes, UN emergency relief coordinator, noted in a statement on 6 February that in December and January the situation worsened. "The situation worsened in December and January when the levels of criminality and banditry in the region increased, leaving villages and entire stretches of road linking the two countries abandoned," the statement said.

International fatigue

Thanks to help from international organisations and the government in Chad, some refugees are now relatively independent: the government in Chad has donated arable land and humanitarian organisations have provided seeds and farming equipment, which has allowed people to farm and provide for the needs of their families. Others managed to save some of their cattle when they escaped and now breed animals.

Despite this, the CAR refugees’ need for help is significant, but their cause does not attract much attention from donors, who focus more on the approximately 240,000 Sudanese refugees in the east of Chad, according to humanitarian workers. Certain areas of aid, therefore, have to be sidelined according to UNHCR, such as psychological support.

"There is a sense of fatigue from the international community with regard to helping CAR refugees", said Mahamat Nour Abdoulaye, CNAR’s Permanent Secretary. "The government in Chad has gone to great lengths, including providing arable land to allow refugees to farm and look after themselves, but we cannot carry the burden alone".

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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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