CHAD: Relocating a refugee camp in volatile east
N'DJAMENA, 30 September 2009 (IRIN) - Aid workers in eastern Chad are preparing to move some 28,000 Sudanese men, women and children from a refugee camp infiltrated by supposed rebels.
The Chad government decided in mid-September to relocate Ouré Cassoni camp, which is near the northern town of Bahai and 7km from the border with Sudan.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has welcomed the move, which it has been urging for years. UNHCR has long expressed concern that Sudanese rebels were using the site as a base.
A new site has yet to be confirmed, but Bir Douane, 45km northwest of Bahai, is under consideration, according to UNHCR spokesperson Annette Rehrl.
A UNHCR team along with government officials and refugees will visit the proposed site in early October. The government proposed two alternative sites in 2006 but there was insufficient water at the locations, Rehrl said.
“That is the major issue,” Rehrl said. “Ensuring there is enough water for 28,000 people.”
Security is also an issue in a region where aid workers and the population continue to face attacks by armed groups. “The persistent insecurity from crime in the east, increasingly violent, remains a significant concern for the humanitarian community,” according to the latest (15 September) bulletin by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Chad.
Aid organizations working at Ouré Cassoni said the final site decision and the move must be done in close coordination with all agencies involved.
“The International Rescue Committee supports the rationale to move the camp farther away from the Sudan border – in line with international humanitarian standards,” said Kurt Tjossem, IRC regional director in the Horn and East Africa. But he said the new site must be thoroughly evaluated for availability of natural resources to provide for refugees’ essential needs.
UNHCR policy is that a refugee camp should be at least 50km from a border. Ouré Cassoni in 2004 started out as a transit site for Darfur refugees but people poured over the border in such large numbers that eventually it became difficult to relocate the refugees, according to Rehrl.
Norik Soubrier, Chad country director with ACTED, said coordination is vital not only on technical evaluations and planning but also on protection.
“In order to block armed groups from getting to the camp and to allow the free movement of aid workers MINURCAT [UN Mission in Central African Republic and Tchad] should be permanently present in the zone,” he said. “Beyond that, the local authorities and UNPOL [UN Police] have an equally important role to play in refugee protection, through criminal and judicial enforcement.”
A government official told IRIN the authorities had long recognized the problem of insecurity at Ouré Cassoni.
“We have been ready to move the refugees,” Mahamet Saleh, deputy head of Chad’s Comité national pour l’accueil des réfugiés (CNAR), told IRIN. “But it has always been a problem of logistics – finding water and a safe site.”
He added: “We are fully committed to moving the camp because we realize it is too close to the border and we are particularly concerned about the presence of armed men and the militarization of the camp.”
ACTED’s Soubrier said given that the Sudanese have lived at Ouré Cassoni camp for five years they are likely to be apprehensive about leaving.
“This is completely understandable, in that they are leaving a place they now know and where they have basic services, for a new unknown site. Given this, it is crucial that the necessary time be taken to talk to the refugees as well as to mobilize the funds necessary for a smooth transfer.”
UNHCR's Rehrl said the agency's mandate is to protect refugees. "Should it happen that refugees don't want to move, we will take their concerns seriously, continue to talk to them and continue to inform them on the better living conditions they're going to get in a new site. But ultimately they are under the responsibility and protection of the host government."
Copyright © IRIN 2009
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