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UNHCR Prepares to Transfer Sudanese Refugees in Chad

The United Nations says thousands of Sudanese refugees who have fled to eastern Chad must be moved to safety further away from the border. The agency says it is sending an emergency team to Chad next week to prepare for the transfer.

U.N. refugee spokesman Ron Redmond said tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees who fled to Chad are scattered along a 600-kilometer border. He said many are in poor health and living in makeshift sites in the remote, and dangerous eastern border region. "There are reports that fighting and lawlessness - just general insecurity has spilled across that very remote border. Some of these people came across, for example, with cattle and other livestock, which have been stolen. There have been cross-border, basically, bandit raids. This type of thing. So it is extremely difficult to police 600 kilometers of border and there are some areas of that border region where we cannot go because it is too dangerous," he said.

Mr. Redmond says refugees began fleeing to Chad in April after fighting erupted between government forces and rebels in the Darfur region of Western Sudan.

The UNHCR reports about 91,000 refugees now are in Chad and in need of urgent assistance. An estimated 25,000 have arrived this month alone. The spokesman says relief agencies are prevented from going to Darfur and this, too, is prompting thousands of Sudanese to flee to Chad.

Aid agencies accuse authorities in Khartoum of blocking their access to Darfur. They say the government is embarrassed that fighting is going on there at a time when a peace deal ending 25 years of civil war is almost concluded.

Mr. Redmond said the UNHCR is hurriedly developing a refugee site in Farachana, a town about 55 kilometers from the border. "By mid-January, Farachana should be ready to take an initial 10,000 refugees. They will be brought to the site from various collection points along the border where they are now gathered. The new site still needs to have water wells developed, a basic road network and other infrastructure before the refugees can be transferred and we are also looking at other sites where we can transfer refugees further into the New Year," he said.

Mr. Redmond said aid workers will begin moving the refugees into the new site in about three weeks.