The U.N. refugee agency says it is relocating more than 16,000 Sudanese refugees in Chad away from the border because of deteriorating security and lack of water.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says more than 16,000 refugees from Sudan's conflict-ridden province of Darfur are at particular risk because of cross-border attacks.
UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis says a first group of about 3,000 Sudanese refugees will be relocated from Am Nabok later this month. She says a new site will be established to house the remaining 13,000 refugees.
"Am Nabok was a site that was kind of spontaneously established in June 2004 when we were seeing great numbers of people fleeing from Darfur," she said. "They sort of settled down there. But, the lack of water has always been a problem, and the proximity to the border has always been a problem. Drinking water has to be trucked into the site, which is an extremely expensive operation. But, also, the security on the roads leading to Am Nabok has markedly deteriorated with several recent hijackings of humanitarian aid vehicles, making it more difficult for UNHCR and its partners to deliver assistance to the refugees."
Pagonis says UNHCR and the Chadian Government signed an agreement on Thursday to increase security in and around all 12 Sudanese refugee camps in eastern Chad. She says the aim is to improve security for refugees, local populations, humanitarian personnel and humanitarian goods.
In a related matter, the UNHCR says deteriorating security in Darfur is severely limiting its operations there, forcing the agency to drastically cut back its protection activities.
In January, the United Nations imposed tighter, so-called Phase Four restrictions on U.N. staff and operations in several areas, because of the increasingly volatile situation in Darfur. As a consequence, the UNHCR relocated many of its staff members out of the affected areas. It also has slashed its 2006 budget for Darfur from $33 million to $18.5 million.
Pagonis says that is because the UNHCR is limited in what it can do.
"We still do have essential staff to go to some areas that are still Phase Three to carry out whatever protection operations we can," she added. "But, we had been extremely limited in the way that we can work. It is of grave concern. I think all other U.N. agencies are operating under the same restrictions. We all fall under the same security restrictions, and so this leaves a huge protection gap for the displaced of Darfur. I do not think there is anybody who can necessarily step in and fill that role."
Pagonis says the UNHCR will immediately revise its program and issue a new appeal if the situation eases and humanitarian operations can go ahead as planned.
Last year, the UNHCR's roving protection teams conducted more than 150 field missions in Darfur. Besides protection, the agency also coordinates camp management in West Darfur. It maintains 33 women's centers in various settlements for internally displaced people and offers counseling and legal assistance to the displaced.