CAR + 1 more

UNHCR to start urgent relocation operation for 10,000 refugees in southern Chad

GORE, Chad, July 8 (UNHCR) - Chadian officials today agreed to UNHCR's request for the urgent relocation of 10,000 refugees currently staying in several makeshift settlements scattered along Chad's remote southern border with the Central African Republic. The refugee agency hopes to get them all moved before they are isolated by flooding during the upcoming rainy season.

Authorities agreed to let UNHCR and its partners transfer the Central African Republic (CAR) refugees to Amboko camp, 6 km from the southern Chad town of Gore.

The relocation movements could start next week, possibly as early as Monday. Additional trucks to transport the refugees are on the way from Abeche and N'Djamena to the Gore region. The refugee agency is also looking into the possibility of renting trucks in Moundou. The relocation operation should take a couple of weeks to move everyone to Amboko camp.

UNHCR staff expressed appreciation for the government's cooperation in giving the green light to the transfer.

"Amboko camp already has 13,000 refugees from CAR and can host up to 27,000 people," said Marie-Christine Bocoum, UNHCR's deputy representative in Chad. "It will be easier for UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies to provide the refugees with health services, drinkable water and the security they need in a proper camp, rather than if they stayed at these makeshift sites along the border."

The refugees fled fighting between the government and armed groups in the CAR over a three-week period in early June and have been living in difficult conditions around 17 villages in the Gore area. With the onset of the rainy season, it is crucial to be able to move them quickly to a single, accessible site. Flooding has already begun to obstruct transport in the region.

UNHCR staff who this week have been visiting the makeshift refugee sites along the border described extremely difficult living conditions.

"Malnourishment is starting to have fatal consequences among the refugees at the border," said Craig Sanders, head of the Chad / Darfur desk at UNHCR. "A child diagnosed with kwashiorkor some days ago died Wednesday in Amboko hospital."

Médecins Sans Frontières-Holland reported it was seriously concerned about a measles outbreak, and that malaria was rampant among the refugees. Out of 20 blood tests administered on Wednesday to a group of refugees in one of the villages, 19 tested positive for malaria. There are also fears of a possible cholera outbreak in the area, where adequate sanitation and water are lacking.

As of Friday, UNHCR had distributed 4,200 blankets and 1,500 plastic sheets to the refugees. More supplies from the agency's stocks in N'Djamena and Abeche, in eastern Chad, are on their way to southern Chad. UNHCR also sent more staff to the Gore area to support its office there. The agency is also in the process of seeking the release of about $1 million from its emergency fund for the southern Chad operation.

There are already 30,000 refugees from the Central African Republic in southern Chad. The majority of them arrived in 2003 after a military coup. They are staying in Amboko camp in Gore and Yaroungou camp in Danamadji. Chad is also hosting more than 200,000 Sudanese refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan who are currently housed in 12 camps in the east part of the country.