Emergency aid is being sent this week to about one thousand people – mostly children – stranded in a remote area of Chad. The International Organization for Migration says the Chadians fled violence in neighboring Nigeria between government forces and the militant group Boko Haram.
The displaced migrants are in the village of N’Gbouboua in the Lac region of western Chad, about 48 kilometers from the Nigerian border. Their presence there was first discovered late last month. A truck convoy loaded with emergency supplies is being readied thanks to a donation by the United States.
“I would like first of all to sincerely thank the U.S. embassy here in Chad that has made this timely donation to the IOM to assist this vulnerable group of migrants that are still stranded in this very, very unsafe area. The situation is very precarious,” said Dr. Qasim Sufi is the country director for the International Organization for Migration.
The IOM is working with the Chadian government, International Committee of the Red Cross, World Food Program and UNICEF to gather the needed supplies.
“Food, temporary shelter, medication, psychosocial support and so on. But then our ultimate goal is really to assist them, the kids, to reunite with their families, biological family members, and then other people – elderly and families – also to take them to their final destination,” he said.
The stranded children are Koranic pupils called Talebs. They fled with their teachers, the Marabout, from four eastern Nigerian villages three weeks ago.
Sufi said, “They stay with them until they become big and one day they come back home. So this is sort of a traditional business that they do because even the area where they come from it is predominantly inhabited by Chadians. Some of them are as small as five years, six years (old).”
Sufi likens their stay in Nigeria to an education scholarship program. Earlier reports said some of the villages they fled were destroyed in the fighting between Nigerian forces and Boko Haram.
Usually, the Koranic students live in eastern Nigeria for many years. Sufi said some can’t remember who their parents are. That’s where the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Chadian Red Cross / Red Crescent Society step in with a program called family tracing.
“This is the most complicated part of the whole operation I must say. And I have doubts that this will last only for three weeks,” he said.
The four wheel drive truck convoy carrying emergency aid will travel hours on unmarked desert roads and make a ferry crossing to reach the migrants. Besides being remote, the area also has roaming elephants and packs of possibly rabid dogs. One child was bit, but humanitarian workers did manage to get serum to the child for treatment.