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CAR Refugees in Chad Need Urgent Aid, Protection

FILE - A woman looks on as people on a truck gather their belongings during a road repatriation to Chad in the capital Bangui, January 22, 2014.
FILE - A woman looks on as people on a truck gather their belongings during a road repatriation to Chad in the capital Bangui, January 22, 2014.
Chad is now home to more than 80,000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR). Most of them are Muslims who have fled the recent violence in the CAR. Aid agencies say these refugees urgently need food and shelter. For some, particularly those living near the border, the threat of violence remains.

Tens of thousands of civilians have crossed from the Central African Republic into southern Chad in the past three months. Most of them are Muslims and many are of Chadian descent, even if their families have lived in the CAR for generations.

Many have crossed the border in convoys under the protection of the Chadian army. Others have walked on their own.

They may have found refuge from the immediate threat of attack, but they are not finding much relief.

Many are sleeping in makeshift shelters near the border with little food. Malaria is an ever-present threat and without proper sanitation, the risk of a waterborne illness like cholera is real.

The international aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, is providing assistance to refugees at sites in southern Chad and in the capital, N'Djamena.

MSF emergency coordinator, Foura Sassou Madi, spoke to VOA from Sido, a transit camp less than a kilometer from the border that is currently home to 13,000 people.

He said refugees are arriving in very precarious conditions in need of medical assistance, some of them after days of walking, some are so weak he doesn't how they made it.

Hunger is a primary concern. MSF has treated dozens of children who have arrived in Chad with severe acute malnutrition. Without rapid food assistance, the group said, things could quickly get much worse.

Madi said the U.N. World Food Program has carried out two targeted distributions at the Sido camp.

He said those food distributions have only reached about half the refugees, the most recent distribution on March 4 and 5 was for about 6,000 people. He said their families were given one week's worth of food, so the problem is far from solved.

The United Nations said it has only received about one-fifth of the $33 million needed to fund an emergency plan to help 150,000 people affected by the crisis in the CAR.

MSF said the Chadian government has exhausted its stocks of emergency medicines and other necessities.

Rights group Amnesty International said those displaced to Chad need protection as well as urgent humanitarian assistance.

Amnesty researcher Christian Mukosa just spent two weeks visiting refugee sites throughout Chad. He says many are still dangerously close to the border.

Mukosa said the border is porous and it is very easy to get back and forth. He says they also spoke with many people who had fled the CAR only to find their aggressors at the same site in Chad. He said he met one woman who told him the Seleka commander who had attacked her was now living in the same camp and she felt very unsafe.

Mukosa said Amnesty has alerted the authorities to these risks and has requested they move refugee sites further from the border.

Mukosa said ramping up security at refugee sites is essential to keep communal tensions and tit-for-tat revenge attacks that have been raging in the CAR from spilling into Chad.