For the past three years, Chadians have taken in Sudanese refugees fleeing attacks by Arab militias backed by Sudan's government. Now, they say they are being targeted by those same militias. It is part of a larger, emerging crisis as the violence from Sudan's Darfur conflict spreads west. Raymond Thibodeaux has more for VOA from Gouroukoun in southeastern Chad.
So far this year, more than 55,000 Chadians have been displaced by marauding Arab militias, known as "Janjaweed."
The attacks signal that Sudan's worsening Darfur conflict, which has spawned many rebel movements and roving militias, is spreading westward into a region of Africa long plagued by civil wars and cross-border incursions.
And as the violence spreads west, so does the civilian death toll and the numbers of those seeking refuge in larger villages and towns, widening a humanitarian crisis that United Nations officials are calling the world's worst.
The 200,000 Sudanese refugees already in Chad are being joined by tens of thousands of displaced Chadians as well as thousands of people from Central African Republic who are fleeing attacks by government troops there.
Halima Abakar, a 30-year-old mother of two, came to Gouroukoun three days ago. She says Arab "Janjaweed" militias attacked her village of Koloy, about 110 kilometers away, killing at least three of her relatives.
"Arab people attacked them and that's why they moved here," she said. "They took away all their animals and livestock and the essential items they had [such as] clothes and their food stocks."
In the village of Goz Beida, about two kilometers from Gouroukoun, nearly 14,000 displaced Chadians have set up a make-shift village of straw huts on land set aside for them by the area's tribal leader, Seid Brahim Mustafa, the Sultan of Dar Sila.
"We have been saying for a very long time that Sudan has been interfering in our affairs over on this side," he said. "We have said it over and over and over again. We were talking to deaf ears. Nobody listened. And look at the problems we are now facing."
Many Sudanese continue to pour into Chad, crossing a national boundary that entitles them, by international treaty, to aid and haven as refugees. There are already 200,000 Sudanese refugees in Chad. Most of them live in squalid camps, but at least they have access to food aid, health care and even primary and vocational education, most of it supplied by U.N. agencies.
"It is much worse for those who are internally displaced," says Olivier Bercault, a Human Rights Watch investigators who has traveled extensively in western Sudan and eastern Chad. Like many Sudanese, the Chadians are suffering from the threat of starvation and also need protection, he says, but they are not getting much help right now because they are not refugees.
Chadians are forced to seek shelter near larger villages and towns that have better access to food aid and water, and are more likely to be within walking distance to the tiny, but reassuring outposts of government troops or Chadian police.
So far, international efforts have been unable to resolve Sudan's Darfur conflict. Seven rounds of peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria, between rebels and the Khartoum government have failed, prolonging the conflict and further hampering international aid efforts.