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Stability, Even If Short-Term, Returns to Sudanese Refugee Camps in Chad

In Chad, the U.N. Refugee Agency takes care of 250,000 Sudanese refugees uprooted by the conflict in Darfur, 166,000 internally displaced Chadians as well as 60,000 refugees from the Central African Republic. Bandits and rebel recruitment inside the camps remain a significant problem for the United Nations which has now taken over peacekeeping duties from the European Union.

In the desert wild and sand storms of eastern Chad, life is not just tough, it's brutal.

The Oure Cassoni refugee camp, just seven kilometers from war-torn Darfur, is packed with 27,000 refugees from Sudan.

The camp is too close for comfort to Sudan, say EU troops patrolling the area. They expect new waves of violence and an influx of more refugees.

"For this moment, fortunately the situation is calm and stable," Colonel Maciej Siudak reported. "But all the time, we just must be aware that everything may change."

The United Nations Refugee Agency says plans are in place to accept more refugees should they arrive.

At Amnabak, another Sudanese refugee camp, the fear of more violence in Darfur makes community elders reluctant to talk about returning home.

Abdel Malek, president of the refugees' committee, says no one here feels at ease.

"We are witnesses of what happened in Darfur, we remember the consequences of having no food. We still want to return but not right away, we will have to wait until there are no more weapons," he said.

Refugees also fear losing humanitarian aid.

U.N. aid workers pulled out of Amnabak last October after a refugee uprising there. They came back four months later when security returned - with the help of EU troops.

Aid workers say the protests were orchestrated by Chadians who tried to register as Sudanese refugees so they could receive food.

"During the four-month absence, we were in a critical situation," Malek said. "The refugees among ourselves, we divided up the rations by grams and by mouths."

The elders were asked to get involved with camp security. They say the situation is better now.

Camp rebellions and regional instability represent a long-term challenge for humanitarian workers, says the U.N. Refugee Agency's Serge Male in Chad's capital, N'Djamena.

"If the environment is not properly secured then they will not be able to work, because they need, in order to put their program in place, they need three to five years," Male said. "It's not a quick fix."

As EU troops wrap up a year-long mission in Chad, U.N. officials say those troops have brought security to the camps they were sent to protect.

But both the U.N. and EU agree - more needs to be done to prevent Sudan's Darfur crisis from spilling further into Chad.