UN refugee agency alarmed after armed group prevents relocation of Darfurians

UN refugee agency alarmed after armed group prevents relocation of Darfurians

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Unidentified gunmen today blocked attempts by the United Nations refugee agency to move 179 Darfurian families away from the volatile border region and into formal camps in eastern Chad, sparking concern among humanitarian officials.

The men gave no reason for blocking the relocation when staff with UN High Commissioner for Refugees and its aid partners attempted on Tuesday to begin boarding the refugees on trucks bound for Kounoungou, one of 12 camps the agency operates in the region, UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told reporters.

“This is deeply concerning and we are making every effort with the Chadian authorities to get these refugees moved quickly,” she said. “The situation is so serious that our representative in Chad is now at the border trying to find a solution to this problem.”

As many as 8,000 people – mainly women and children – have crossed into the Birak and Koruk areas of Chad following deadly militia attacks on three towns in West Darfur last week, and nearly all are currently living in makeshift conditions near the border.

Ms. Pagonis warned that the refugees are “extremely exposed and vulnerable. The area is highly insecure, with roaming armed groups posing a real threat to the refugees and aid workers.”

Notorious militia groups allied to the Sudanese Government and known as Janjaweed have been attacking villagers across Darfur since 2003 when rebels took up arms against the Government in the arid region. In the fighting since then more than 200,000 people have been killed and at least 2.2 million others displaced.

UNHCR said it has several trucks ready to begin the relocation process but is now awaiting approval from central authorities in Chad.

Ms. Pagonis said the agency faces “tough logistical challenges” in moving the refugees away from the border. In the meantime, basic items such as sleeping mats, blankets, jerry cans and soap will be distributed, along with tents and food.

Meanwhile, UNHCR is also preparing to start the first transfer of Chadian refugees from a site just over the border in neighbouring Cameroon to a better equipped site about 30 kilometres away in Maltam.

The refugees, who fled recent fighting in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena, have been living temporarily at a transit centre in Kousseri, close to the border. As many as 7,000 to 10,000 are living in the open there, while thousands of others have found shelter in schools and churches in Kousseri.

About 1,000 refugees are expected to be transferred tomorrow to Maltam, which can host up to 50,000 people at full capacity. UNHCR and its partners have begun building schools, health centres and latrines at the site and also started erecting tents.