With malnourishment already taking a toll among 10,000 newly arrived Central African Republic (CAR) refugees in southern Chad, and concern rising over a measles outbreak and rampant malaria, United Nations officials will start wholesale relocation as early as Monday before the rainy season cuts off all possibility of aid.
Chadian officials today agreed to a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) request to urgently relocate the refugees, who fled unrest in their own country over the past month, from makeshift settlements among 17 villages along Chad's remote southern border to an already established and fully equipped camp near the town of Gore.
Flooding has already begun to obstruct transport in the region and UNHCR staff who this week visited the makeshift refugee sites along the border described extremely difficult living conditions.
"Malnourishment is starting to have fatal consequences among the refugees at the border," the head of UNHCR's Chad/Darfur desk, Craig Sanders, said, noting that a child diagnosed some days ago with kwashiorkor, a form of malnutrition caused by inadequate protein intake, died on Wednesday in hospital.
The non-governmental organization (NGO) Médecins Sans Frontières-Holland said it was seriously concerned about a measles outbreak, and that malaria was rampant among the refugees. Out of 20 blood tests administered on Wednesday to a group of refugees at one of the sites, 19 tested positive for malaria. There are also fears of a possible cholera outbreak in the area, where adequate sanitation and water are lacking.
The relocation to Amboko camp, which already has 13,000 CAR refugees and can host up to 27,000 people, could start next week, possibly as early as Monday, and should take a couple of weeks to complete, allowing for all those affected to be moved before they are isolated by flooding during the upcoming rainy season.
Additional transport trucks are on their way to the Gore region and UNHCR thanked the government for giving the green light to the transfer.
"It will be easier for UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies to provide the refugees with health services, drinkable water and the security they need in a proper camp, rather than if they stayed at these makeshift sites along the border," UNHCR's deputy representative in Chad, Marie-Christine Bocoum, said.
As of Friday, UNHCR had distributed 4,200 blankets and 1,500 plastic sheets to the refugees. It also sent more staff to the Gore area to support its office there. There are already 30,000 CAR refugees in southern Chad. The majority of them arrived in 2003 after a military coup. Chad is also hosting more than 200,000 Sudanese refugees from the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan who are currently housed in 12 camps in the eastern part of the country.