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Refugees Flee Unknown Attackers in Central African Republic


Thousands of refugees have fled to Chad, escaping violence in northern Central African Republic, CAR. Aid agencies are worried that Chad, which already hosts hundreds-of-thousands of refugees, will be unable to care for more people.

Refugees fleeing to Chad tell stories about how their property was looted, and their villages burned. There are also many reports of young girls being raped.

A representative from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Chad, Marie Christine Boccoum, says it is still unclear who is responsible for the attacks.

"What they say is that they are fleeing attacks from armed groups, unidentified armed groups," she explained. "We haven't had any information saying if it is government versus any rebels. They just mention armed groups, and, sometimes, its bandits coming out to attack the villagers."

The UNHCR is sending a team to the CAR to investigate the attacks, but the United Nations is currently not operating in the area for security reasons.

The UNHCR says an estimated 7,000 refugees have crossed into Chad in the past month, and around 5,500 people have been transferred to a camp 80 kilometres away from the border.

A representative of the International Federation for the Red Cross, Eelko Brouwer, says it is imperative that all the refugees be moved away from the border as soon as possible, because it is the rainy season, and the area will soon become flooded.

"We started with the areas most likely to be inundated during these weeks, and then we worked our way to the easier area," he said. "The problem is that there are new people coming in, and I do not know if all the people can be reached."

Mr. Brouwer says another concern is, there may not be adequate resources to cope with demands of new refugees. There are already 200,000 refugees from the troubled Darfur region of western Sudan in eastern Chad, and 30,000 refugees from CAR in the south of the country.

"There is already a minimal response to the already existing problem of the Central African refugees," he added. "A lot of attention has been drawn away from this situation in favor of the situation in the east of Chad with the Sudanese refugees."

Aid agencies say the Chadian government has welcomed the refugees, despite the country's own problems of poverty and lack of infrastructure. A large, semi-desert country, Chad also suffers from periodic drought and locust plagues.

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