Humanitarian agencies are setting up a way station in a small, remote mountain town in Chad. It’s the entry point for thousands of Chadian migrants fleeing the conflict in Libya. All the new arrivals need food, water and health care.
The town of Zouarke is little more than a cluster of 20 huts. But one thing it does have is a deep well. And at any given time, hundreds of people may be lined up, waiting for hours, to fill their jerry cans.
Migrants must travel through Niger to get to the town. It’s not the quickest way, but it’s safer. The more direct route is littered with landmines left over from Libya’s sporadic conflict with Chad between 1978 and 1987.
Last week, there were reports from the government that nearly 4,000 migrants has been stranded in Zouarke, unable to travel further into Chad. Upon hearing the news, the International Organization for Migration sent an assessment team and supplies to the town.
Dr. Qasim Sufi, the IOM’s chief of mission in Chad, says the assessment had two goals.
“The first one was to meet the immediate needs of migrants that have arrived at Zouarke. And the second one is to assess the situation to avoid such events to happen in the near future.”
The IOM says the nearly 4,000 migrants reported stranded had apparently managed to move on by the time the assessment team arrived. But over a thousand more migrants arrived in the town during a 24 hour period and more are on the way.
The major problem was really a problem of potable water, but also food, but also medicine. So in addition to the team we sent also two lorries of medicine, food, water to provide people with such assistance.
While the well in Zouarke holds plenty of water, getting it to the surface and distributing it was taking too much time.
Sufi said, “IOM is in the process of increasing the capacity of conserving the water. We sent two big containers and a pump that will pump out the water from the well so it can be stored in these two containers, so that people can easily [it] access on their way to Faya. And the second strategy that we are planning to put in place will be a bore hole so that we can increase the capacity and availability of potable water.”
Faya, the next destination for migrants passing through Zouarke, is about 600 kilometers to the southeast. The IOM says there’s plenty of food, water and medical care there.
Meanwhile, Dr. Sufi says in the Libyan border town of Gatroun, 800 kilometers away from Zouarke, many Chadians are still waiting to head home.
“I don’t have the exact number, but people are talking about 28 to 30,000. People talking about 40,000, but for sure there are many, many more still in a town called Gatroun, a border town in Libya, and somehow are unable to proceed,” he said.
The International Organization for Migration hopes to get an assessment of the situation in Gatroun soon.