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UN Warns Sudanese Refugees in Chad Have Nowhere to Go

The UN refugee agency warns some 200,000 Sudanese refugees who fled to Chad from Darfur would have nowhere to go were they to be expelled from the country. A UNHCR spokeswoman tells VOA, the agency has heard nothing official from the authorities in Chad about possible expulsions.

UNHCR spokeswoman, Jennifer Pagonis, says she does not want to speculate about what would happen to the refugees were they to be expelled.

"Obviously, they cannot go to Darfur," she said. "The situation there is not suitable for the return of refugees there. They still fear persecution. The situation in Darfur is not good. Even our own activities in the region have been curtailed because of the security situation. So, they cannot go back to Darfur. We certainly hope that we can continue working with the Chadian government."

On Friday, Chad's president threatened to expel the Sudanese refugees by the end of June, unless the international community took steps to stop, what he called, Sudan's efforts to undermine his government. The government issued this warning in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt by rebels who, Chad claims, are supported by the Sudanese government.

Since war between Sudanese-backed militia and rebel groups broke out in Darfur three years ago, tens of thousands of people have been killed and about two million made homeless. An estimated 200,000 fled to neighboring Chad seeking asylum.

Pagonis tells VOA the UNHCR has been working very closely with the Chadian government since the beginning of the influx of refugees from Darfur in 2003. She hopes the cooperation between them can continue.

"We have good contacts with the government. We talk to them regularly and we will certainly be talking to them now about this. You know Chad has had a very large burden in dealing with these 200,000 refugees," reminded Pagonis. "They are in an extremely difficult, hostile area, part of the country, in terms of the physical terrain. And, it certainly has not been easy for them. That is why the UNHCR has been there helping them cope with this. So far, we have managed under pretty difficult circumstances. So, we think that we can at least try to continue that."

Pagonis says there are only about 12 resettlement countries in the world. She says it is unlikely that other countries would be willing to take 200,000 refugees. She says she does not believe a solution lies in that direction, nor does it lie in sending them home.

She says the refugees from Darfur have suffered enormously and it would be unthinkable for them to be put through another horrendous situation. She urges all parties to respect the refugees and to respect their right to asylum.