The first of more than 1,500 Chadian refugees who have spent the past two decades in exile in the Central African Republic (CAR) after fleeing civil war in their country are scheduled to return home today in an operation expected to be completed by early October, the United Nations refugee agency reported.
A convoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), carrying 321 Chadian returnees, is expected to arrive this afternoon in the southern Chad town of Goré after a two-day journey from strife-torn northern CAR, from which thousands of CAR citizens have also fled in recent months seeking refuge in Chad.
The repatriation is being carried out in cooperation with the Governments of the two countries, UNHCR said. The CAR refugee agency is providing a nurse to accompany the convoy, as is MSF-Spain, which has done medical screening of the group.
From 1999 to 2001, UNHCR helped repatriate thousands of Chadian refugees. Those going back now had decided not to take part in that earlier repatriation operation and to remain in CAR, where they have been self-sustaining. With the growing insecurity in northern CAR since the end of 2004, the group approached UNHCR to organise their return to Chad. Many of the refugees reported attacks by bandits who stole their cattle and prevented them from working in their fields.
Altogether, there are some 14,000 refugees in camps and urban areas in CAR, according to the agency. They come primarily from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, Uganda, the Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and Sierra Leone. UNHCR is currently doing a new registration of some of those groups in preparation for possible repatriations in coming months.
Aside from the returnees, there are an estimated 40,000 to 45,000 CAR refugees in southern Chad – at least 10,000 of whom have fled the violence in northern CAR since June. There are another 200,000 refugees from Sudan's Darfur region in eastern Chad.