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Thousands Flee Chad's Capital For Cameroon

Thousands of Chadians are fleeing the capital, N’Djamena, as rebels attack the city. Many are fleeing to neighboring Cameroon, where the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is waiting with assistance. Meanwhile, in eastern Chad, the UNHCR continues to run camps for 240,000 refugees from Darfur and nearly 200,000 displaced Chadians. However, staff is being reduced and eventually problems could develop if food shipments stop. VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua interviewed UNHCR spokesperson Helene Caux, who’s based in Geneva.

“It’s been affecting our operations. First, in N’Djamena, where all the fighting took place for the moment, we had to evacuate all of our staff. All UNHCR staff has been evacuated to Yaoundé (Cameroon) through UN planes and also through French aircraft. We have only one staff (member) left and there are about 20 staff from other UN agencies remaining in N’Djamena, but the situation is really tense,” she says.

At the time of the interview (14 hours UTC), fighting had resumed in the city, “which means of course that more people are going to leave N’Djamena over to Cameroon. This is what has been happening in the past days. Since Saturday, thousands of Chadians…have been crossing the bridge that links N’Djamena to Cameroon. And they’ve been crossing by the thousands.”

Caux says a UNHCR team was due to arrive Monday at the Cameroon side of the border crossing the assist the new refugees.

The UNHCR operates many camps in eastern Chad for about 240,000 refugees from Darfur and about 180,000 internally displaced Chadians. Caux says, “The operation in eastern Chad has been moderately affected for the moment, but we fear that the security situation is going to degrade more. There was a major attack yesterday (Sunday) on the town of Adre, which is just at the border between Darfur and eastern Chad on the Chadian side…we have 12 refugee camps. And of course if we don’t feel safe, we are going to have to reduce the number of our staff there…. We are starting to evacuate non-essential staff from Abeche to Cameroon. Thirty-two UNHCR staff are being evacuated, as well as dozens of other humanitarian staff working for other UN agencies and NGOs, non-governmental organizations.” (English to Africa 2/4)

Staff at UNHCR field offices, around which the camps are based, are not being reduced at this time. However, Caux says that could change if the situation worsens. If those staff members are evacuated, she says, “We had to evacuate staff in the past. If you remember in 2006 we had a similar chaotic security situation. And what we do in this kind of circumstance is that we’ve been preparing the refugees to the possibility of reducing the number of our staff there and we are basically handing over the management of the camps to refugee leaders, who will be able to take care of food distribution, water distribution, take care of health services…but this will be sustainable only for some weeks. Basically no food is being distributed to the refugees in the camps.”