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UNHCR Rushes to Move Darfur Refugees to a Safer Location

The U-N Refugee Agency, UNHCR, says it is speeding up its relocation of thousands of Darfur refugees from Tissi, a settlement in southeastern Chad that borders with Sudan and Central African Republic, due to the impending rainy season and security concerns.

Over the past two weeks the UNHCR has moved over 5,000 refugees at a rate of about 500 per day to a settlement some 30 kilometers northwest at Ab Gadam. In total, they expect to move about 20,000 refugees to the new camp by mid-June and may open another new settlement site as Darfuris continue to cross into Tissi fleeing ethnic violence.

“We had an influx of about 30,000 refugees recently, and now that the rainy season is just a couple of days ahead, we are rushing to bring the refugees away from the border area. That’s because it’s a very unsafe area here very close to the border. Today we relocated around 500-800 refugees to a camp which we set up about two weeks ago,” explained Ruth Schoffl, a UNHCR spokesperson in Tissi.

She said these refugees come from a region very close to the border of Darfur. They are fleeing inter-ethnic tribal conflicts and many have reported that their villages have been looted or burned down. Most of the refugees fled on foot and are travelling at night for fear of being caught by the fighters.

Once they reach Tissi it is hard to travel further because of its remote location.

“Now we are mobilizing our resources, all trucks, all buses that we can get in the region to a safe area,” said Schoffl.

Women and children are arriving at the settlement in poor health, and at Tissi there is not a lot of clean water available. So the UNHCR is moving the refugees as quickly as possible to the new refugee camp where they have set up medical services, including medical and nutritional screening.

While most of them have been sleeping out of doors without protection, there are no major medical concerns for now.

“But of course we have cases of diarrhea. Especially for small children this can be very dangerous because they can dehydrate quite quickly. And our medical staff here are especially monitoring this. But luckily at the moment there are no major diseases which have broken out,” explained Schoffl.

While the security situation is calm at Tissi for now, there is still concern for the safety of everyone, including UNHCR workers. Schoffl said they are also rushing to move their office closer to the new refugee camp, away from the insecurity along the border.