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Chad Refugees Wait Out Rebellion


As Chad’s government tries to restore order in N’djamena following a rebel retreat to surrounding areas, life goes on in the refugee camps in eastern Chad. The camps, located 900 kilometers east of N’djamena near the border with Sudan’s Darfur, lost staff that was temporarily evacuated during last week’s rebel assault on the capital. Health coordinator Razack Akadire directs medical and sanitation operations of two camps near the town of Abeche for the International Federation of the Red Cross. Although usually based in N’djamena, Akadire was dispatched to northern Cameroon last week to set up new camps for N’djamena residents fleeing the rebels. He says that Darfur refugees and displaced Chadians living in the eastern camps have about ten days to two weeks of supplies to live on until aid workers return to help them take care of their needs.

“The aid staff are away from the camps due to the situation. But we have the local volunteers who continue working there. And we have with them also these refugees in all the shelters so that even if we are not there, they can continue working. These people are there maybe for three or four years, and the situation is under control. We work with the community and so far, they can continue working even if we are away from them. The minimum they need so far so that they can continue maybe for ten days or two weeks. We have to be near them to keep standards at their norm,” he said.

Akadire explains that last week’s rebel assault on N’djamena affected coordination of administrative efforts in the camps and raised a safety alert for foreign aid workers. But he noted the great physical distance of the camps away from the violence helped keep things under control.

“These conflicts are not in the eastern part of Chad, but festering in N’djamena, so that we cannot tell you that the conflicts that happened three days ago affected these refugee camps. But all the volunteers, the workers left. So we can say that the conflict affected the people in the eastern part of Chad,” he said.

Fortunately, the Chadian Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), which operate the two refugee camps near Abeche, left contingency plans that have kept the sites running in their absence. Some 240-thousand refugees from the neighboring strife-torn Darfur region of Sudan currently reside in 12 camps in eastern Chad run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The Red Cross maintains facilities in two camps near the Chadian town of Abeche in an area which also provides temporary lodging to 180-thousand internally displaced Chadians uprooted by a long-running rebellion against the government of President Idriss Deby.

With attacks on the capital subsiding after the rebels pulled back from N’djamena, Razack Akadire said he feels safe in returning to Red Cross headquarters next week. Meanwhile, N’djamena residents continue to arrive at camps recently set up across the border in northern Cameroon, but in smaller numbers than the 20-thousand who arrived earlier this week. If calm continues to prevail, Akadire says he hopes to return soon to Abeche to assess conditions personally, noting that “I already have colleagues who are still in the field, and we have our eyes on the situation.”

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