Global perspective Human stories

Thousands flee deadly attacks on three West Darfur towns – UN refugee agency

Thousands flee deadly attacks on three West Darfur towns – UN refugee agency

Children at the International Rescue Committee kindergarden in Hamadiya IDPs camp, Zalingei, West Darfur
As many as 12,000 Sudanese have fled across the border into Chad since Friday’s deadly attacks, reportedly by Janjaweed militia supported by national armed forces, against three towns in West Darfur, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its humanitarian partners have dispatched an emergency mission to Figeira, in the Birak area of Chad’s volatile eastern border region, to assess the situation, according to information released by the agency.

An estimated 4,000 to 6,000 Darfurian refugees have sought refuge around Birak, while a similar number is believed to be near Koruk, also in eastern Chad.

UNHCR assessment team members report that the refugees they have seen so far in the Birak area have been destitute and terrified, and have detailed how their towns were looted and burned and then encircled by militia to prevent locals from fleeing.

The hybrid UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has received reports indicating that some 200 people were killed from fighting in Abu Suruj, Sirba and Seleia and that Abu Suruj has been burned to the ground. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the attacks.

The three towns are located about 50 to 70 kilometres north of El Geneina, the provincial capital, and that area is known to be a stronghold of the Darfurian opposition group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

UNHCR official Jorge Holly, who was part of the assessment team, said most of the refugees had already been previously displaced in Darfur.

“They are really tired of being attacked and having to move,” Mr. Holly said. “All the new refugees we talked to said they did not want to go back to Darfur at this point; they wanted to be transferred to a refugee camp in eastern Chad.”

Urgent measures are now under way in Chad to move the new refugees by truck, probably tomorrow, to established camps in the east of the country. UNHCR is already taking care of some 240,000 refugees scattered across 12 camps.

Meanwhile, following Chad’s own recent upheavals, in which heavy fighting between armed opposition groups and Government forces has forced thousands of people to leave the landlocked and impoverished country, the UN and its partner NGOs are now assessing the humanitarian needs for those in the capital, N’Djamena.

Last week’s fighting has caused scores of deaths and hundreds of casualties and destroyed or damaged widespread infrastructure, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported. Banditry has also spiked as a result.

Kingsley Amaning, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Chad, said a skeleton team of UN staff had remained in N’Djamena throughout the fighting.

“We stayed in order to assess the security situation and its humanitarian consequences in the capital, and to work for the continuation of our activities in the east of the country,” Mr. Amaning said. “Now that the situation in N’Djamena appears calm, the priority for humanitarians is to get a clear picture of the most pressing needs of the population.”

About 30,000 Chadians, mostly from N’Djamena, have fled to neighbouring Cameroon, where UNHCR staff are providing emergency assistance, including food, drinking water and vaccinations against measles, polio and meningitis.