Women and children make up the majority of the refugees, who originate from the Ouham region of northern Central African Republic (CAR). "Most of them told us they fled their homes by night because of the insecurity, which has intensified since June 3," said Georges Menze, who heads UNHCR's office in Gore, southern Chad.
The Central Africans have sought refuge in villages around the town of Yambodo, near the border with CAR. "Some are staying with host families, others have started building makeshift shelters with wood and straw," said Menze, noting that seasonal rains are complicating the situation. "They are foraging for fruits in the wild. Food is scarce for everyone because of the drought and poor harvest."
Life was very hard for the local population even before the refugees arrived, and there are fears that the recent influx will further strain limited resources in the area. UNHCR has sent high-protein biscuits, plastic sheeting, blankets and cooking sets to meet the immediate needs of the refugees.
"The health and sanitation situation has not reached alarming levels yet, but could quickly deteriorate because of difficult conditions at the encampment sites," said Thadée Nzontunga, an aid worker with Italian non-government organisation COOPI.
A team comprising staff of UNHCR, the UN Children's Fund and the World Food Programme is now in the area to assess the needs of the newcomers and how best to help them in coordination with the local authorities.
Southern Chad already hosts 30,000 Central African refugees, most of whom arrived in 2003 after the military coup that brought President François Bozize to power. These refugees are living in Amboko camp in Gore and Yaroungou camp in Danamadji.
Eastern Chad hosts another group of more than 210,000 Sudanese refugees in 12 UNHCR camps.