The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Sudanese Commissioner for Refugees are recommending that thousands of new arrivals from Chad who have crossed over to Darfur in recent months be recognized by the Sudanese government as refugees. In the most comprehensive assessment of the situation to date, the two agencies jointly say that these people have reason to fear for their safety if they are returned home. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.
The U.N. refugee agency and its Sudanese government counterpart, the Commissioner for Refugees, estimate as many as 30,000 people have left Chad for Darfur in a steady flow since early this year.
The joint report says most of the new arrivals are Arab nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes, although some are from non-Arab tribes. UNHCR spokeswoman, Jennifer Pagonis, says the refugees come from settlements along the Chad-Sudan border.
"They said that they left their homes in Chad after armed men wearing military uniforms entered their homes searching for weapons and accused villagers of supporting and participating in militia activities," she said. "There was apparently violence, looting, and beatings, murders and in some cases rape committed by this group according to those who left."
Given these conditions, Pagonis says the UNHCR and Sudanese Commission believe these Chadians are eligible for refugee status, because their safety could be at stake if they were deported.
But, she says it is agreed that refugee status should not be granted to active or former combatants who could be part of the group. The government of Chad has been fighting rebels in the eastern part of the country, near Sudan.
Pagonis notes that nomadic cross-border movements have existed for centuries in this region. She says nomads regularly move back and forth with their livestock seeking areas where water and grazing land are available.
And, she says, some of the new arrivals say the main reason they left Chad was because of scarce resources, especially water.
"However, the recent cross-border movements to Darfur are mainly motivated by insecurity in Eastern Chad at the end of last year and during the first part of this year," she added. "The UNHCR-COR (Commissioner for Refugees) report also mentions that on their arrival in West Darfur, some families reported having been directed by local Sudanese tribes men, or local Sudanese leaders to occupy empty land, especially in the Wadi Azoum and Wadi Saleh areas. The land belongs to people who are now displaced in camps in Darfur or refugees in eastern Chad."
Pagonis says the report urges the Sudanese Government to quickly clarify land ownership issues and make sure that the owners of the land, mainly internally displaced people in Darfur and refugees in Chad, will be able to return to their villages when they believe it is safe to do so.
The conflict in Darfur has uprooted about 2.5 million people. More than 200,000 have sought refuge in neighboring Chad.