Chadian President Idriss Deby, who last week threatened to expel 200,000 Sudanese following clashes with rebels, has assured the United Nations refugee agency that they will not be forcibly returned and that Chad will abide by international principles.
“President Deby expressed his understandable concern about the difficulties involved in providing security both to the refugees and to the humanitarian organisations that are helping them,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres said in a statement today after speaking to Mr. Deby last night.
The president issued his threat to return the refugees, who have flooded into eastern Chad to flee three years of vicious fighting in Sudan’s western Darfur region, after the Chadian Government and rebels clashed in N'Djamena, the capital.
“In the framework of our efforts to guarantee the protection of refugees from Sudan's Darfur region in Chad, I spoke with Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno on Sunday night and am pleased to report that he has reaffirmed that refugees will not be refouled [forcibly returned] and Chad will abide by international principles,” Mr. Guterres said.
“UNHCR strongly appeals to the international community and its various organizations to do everything possible to urgently establish peace and security in Darfur, which is essential for the stability of the entire region,” he added. “It is also essential to preserve the security of refugees and internally displaced people in Darfur and Chad, and potentially in other countries of the region as well.”
The UN World Food Programme (WFP), which is in the lead on the logistical side of the world body's massive relief operations in Chad, reported last Thursday that all non-essential staff as well as personnel of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were being evacuated in response to rising violence in the country.
In New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed President Deby’s decision not to carry out his threat of pushing out the refugees and described the efforts of the world body to defuse the situation between Chad and Sudan.
“We are engaged with the parties and countries in the region, trying to calm down the tensions because things are bad enough in Darfur,” he told reporters following a working luncheon of the Security Council.
“If you have another escalation in Chad you risk destabilizing the whole region, not just Chad but also the Central African Republic, a sort of domino effect that we have seen in the Great Lakes region,” he cautioned.
He reminded reporters that, in February, Chad and Sudan met in Tripoli, Libya, under the auspices of the African Union and signed an agreement meant to lower tensions on their border.
“I think it is important that the African Union, and all the countries in the region, and the international community, maintain the pressure on the two countries not to escalate,” Mr. Annan said.