UN officials in Chad are assessing whether it is safe for humanitarian staff to return to an area in the east where clashes this week between rebels and government troops forced out most aid workers.
UN security officials are set in the coming days to assess the security situation in the town of Koukou – 200km south of the main eastern city of Abéché – where 20,000 refugees and 40,000 displaced Chadians live. Aid staff from the UN and some NGOs were relocated on 6 May to the nearby town of Goz Beida as a result of the fighting.
“Based on the results of that evaluation we will decide whether our staff can return to the area,” Eliane Duthoit, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Chad, told IRIN.
Duthoit praised the work of the UN mission in Chad, MINURCAT, in facilitating the relocation of aid staff from Koukou.
Rebels in Chad have repeatedly traversed the country in recent years in an attempt to oust President Idriss Deby, with clashes periodically interrupting aid to the quarter-million Sudanese refugees and some 166,000 displaced Chadians living in the east.
UN aid officials said food and other basic supplies are stocked in camps across eastern Chad so a brief suspension of aid worker presence does not affect the daily survival of refugees and IDPs.
“These are not people who will die of hunger in two days; basic supplies are there,” Duthoit said. “But we must hope that the interruption does not last long.”
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) suspended a food distribution that was underway for the refugees in Koukou, WFP-Chad reports officer Amélie Rwankineza told IRIN from the capital N’djamena.
“There are 530 tonnes of food at the camp and some of the refugees had already received their monthly rations,” she said.
Flights by the WFP-run humanitarian aircraft were temporarily suspended to some areas on 5 May but resumed on 8 May, UN workers said.
Marzio Babille, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative in Chad, told IRIN: “Though humanitarian activities slowed down this week there was no major impact on basic services.” But he said one concern is what remaining rebels will do following the clashes with government troops. “What they could do to civilians or to aid workers – that remains a question.”
On 8 May aid workers told IRIN all was calm in Abéché, the humanitarian hub in the east.
The latest events point to a need to build up MINURCAT, which is charged with protecting civilians and facilitating aid operations in eastern Chad, aid workers told IRIN.
The mission, which replaced a European Union force in March, is eventually to have 5,200 troops in eastern Chad; for now 2,115 are there, according to MINURCAT spokesperson Penangnini Touré .
MINURCAT has stepped up patrols in and around Koukou, Touré told IRIN.
MINURCAT has 466 troops based in Goz Beida, the town near Koukou, along with Chadian and UN police, he said.
Pauline Ballaman, head of Oxfam Intermon in Chad, said: “One concern about Koukou is that there is no permanent MINURCAT or DIS [UN-trained Chadian police and gendarmes] presence, in an area with more than 60,000 refugees and displaced persons,” Ballaman said.
“Aid groups had expressed concern about gaps when MINURCAT took over from EUFOR,” she added. “MINURCAT is still setting up and there are not adequate troops for all of eastern Chad. Pressure needs to be put on the international community who have promised troops for MINURCAT.”
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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