The UN refugee agency is condemning what it calls the forced recruitment of Darfur refugees in eastern Chad by armed groups. The refugees were taken from three camps operated by the UNHCR.
Matthew Conway is a spokesperson for the UNHCR. From the town of Abeche in eastern Chad, he spoke to English to Africa’s Joe De Capua about the incidents in March. “It happened over a weekend, Friday the 17th, Saturday the 18th, Sunday the 19th of March. It appears that rebel elements, armed elements, took advantage of the fact that activities during the weekend tend to diminish and that humanitarian presence is limited. Also at the same time, there was what we would call a changing of the guard in all the camps. UNHCR has taken special measures. It’s not standard practice, but we’ve taken special measures in the camps in the east, given the volatility of the situation there to hire gendarmes or basically Chadian police officers to stand guard at the camps.”
Asked whether many refugees were “recruited,” Conway replies, “It seems that these recruiters came to the camps and took advantage of the limited presence, limited witnesses. It seems that it was more of a forced recruitment than we first realized and that they rounded up literally hundreds of refugees – refugees aged anywhere from 15 to 45. That’s of particular concern that not only are they recruiting refugees, but they’re recruiting refugee minors forcibly.” Conway says that the number of refugees taken could be as high as 1,000.
The camps are located between Abeche, about 200 km from the Sudan border, and the border town of Andre. The UNHCR says the Chadian government has responded positively to the agency’s security concerns and have asked the government to actually help get the “recruited” refugees back in the camps.