Refugees from Darfur continue to cross the border into Eastern Chad to escape aerial and ground attacks by militias. Thousands have fled the Jebal Moun area of West Darfur State since earlier this month and the UN refugee agency is trying to help.
Arnette Rehrl is a spokesperson for the UNHCR. From the town of Abeche in eastern Chad, she told VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua that the agency is trying to determine the exact number of new arrivals.
“It’s very difficult to say actually because the refugees have been arriving since February 9th. We got news from our team, who went to the border, that over the past weekend after the attacks in Jebal Moun in West Darfur, an estimated figure of 3,000 new refugees came. We felt before that we had already 10,000, but they are scattered in 11 villages inside (Chad). They move also from place to place and they are still in the open so we have not counted them…with these 3,000 newly arrived…we can say now basically over 13,000,” she says.
The 11villages where the new Darfur refugees are located are spread out over a 35-kilometer area along the Sudan border and about 12 kilometers inside Chad. The refugees made there way toward the villages seeking sources of drinking water. Water scarcity is a problem throughout Eastern Chad. Rehrl says that some refugees walk for hours each day looking for water.
UNHCR hopes to transfer the new refugees to one of the dozen camps it operates in Eastern Chad. “We very much hope so. We are still waiting for the green light from the government of Chad to move the refugees. And we hope that they will get this green light soon because they definitely need better assistance and the assistance ca be better provided in camps,” she says.
Right now, the new refugees are living out in the open, exposed to harsh temperatures.
Also, inter-ethnic fighting is taking place in Eastern Chad, delaying or disrupting humanitarian operations. UNHCR is not fully staffed in Eastern Chad. During recent fighting between government forces and rebels, the UN agency evacuated many staffers and they have yet to return.