Latest Darfur refugees face risk along border, UN agency warns

Latest Darfur refugees face risk along border, UN agency warns

Sudanese refugees wait at a UNHCR departure centre
Some 12,000 Sudanese who fled into Chad following Friday’s deadly attacks against three West Darfur towns remain in a precarious situation along the volatile border region as they await transfer into formal campsites, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) may start relocating the Sudanese to camps later today, spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told journalists in Geneva, with daily convoys eventually planned.

The first batch of 200 refugees, currently based in Figuera in the Birak area, will be relocated towards Kounoungou camp near Guereda, and UNHCR is also holding talks with Chadian authorities about extending Mile camp to house some of the refugees.

The new arrivals are expected to place severe strains on UNHCR’s 12 camps in eastern Chad, with many of the camps – and their limited water supplies – already at or close to capacity.

Ms. Pagonis said most of the refugees are destitute, having escaped by night across the border without any possessions and lacking nourishment. Families have been separated in the turmoil and the refugees include unaccompanied minors; most of the refugees are living in the open and sheltering under trees at night.

An assessment team that visited the area on Sunday provided basic supplies to the refugees and local Chadians have offered water and food that they can spare.

But unidentified armed groups are roaming around the area, Ms. Pagonis said, and the security situation is particularly tense near Guereda, where the market and school have been looted by unknown men.

UNHCR is reinforcing its numbers in eastern Chad to cope with the latest influx of Sudanese refugees, which followed deadly attacks on the towns of Abu Suruj, Sirba and Seleia on Friday, reportedly by Janjaweed militia backed by Sudanese Government forces.

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

More than 200,000 people have been killed and at least 2.2 million others forced to flee their homes across Darfur since rebel groups began fighting Government forces and allied militia in 2003.

The hybrid UN-African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) was deployed at the start of the year to try to quell the violence and restore stability to the war-wracked and impoverished region on Sudan’s western flank.