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Tales Of Terror From Sudanese Refugees In Chad - 2004-01-13

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, says at least 95 thousand Sudanese refugees have crossed the border into Chad. The refugees are fleeing battles between militias in Sudan’s Darfur region. They began leaving the area last April, but the exodus has picked up considerably over the past month.

The UNHCR recently sent an assessment team to eastern Chad, while it hurries to build refugee camps. Ron Redmond is a spokesman for the UNHCR. From Geneva, he gave English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua an update on the situation. He says the emergency team has been moving along the border, which is about 600 kilometers long.

Mr. Redmond says the “groups of refugees found so far are in very, very poor conditions in make-shift settlements scattered in some very remote places.” Initially they were living on handouts from the local population, but in recent months UN aids agencies have been able to provide some of the necessities.

The refugees have recounted tales of terror in Sudan’s Darfur region. Mr. Redmond says, “A lot of the refugees arrived with little or nothing and they said they fled with nothing because they had to leave their villages very, very quickly. They often told the same story of militiamen attacking villages, coming in on camel and horses, shooting people caught in the streets.” He says, “The attacks would move from house to house. They would steal everything they could take, including livestock. Some of the refugees said they were driven into the surrounding hills with their families and then the hillsides would be set on fire, forcing them to flee even further.” The Sudanese also described rapes and abductions by militiamen. The refugees have also been targets of cross border raids.

The UNHCR is developing a camp in Farachana, Chad, some 55 kilometers from the border. The first refugees may be moved there later this week. Other locations for camps are being scouted.