37,000 Darfur Refugees at Risk in Eastern Chad as NGOs Suspend Aid

The UN reported last week that six aid groups have suspended operations in eastern Chad. Nearly 300,000 Darfuri refugees have fled across the the Sudan-Chad border to escape violence in Darfur. Among the groups suspending operations are the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which reported the kidnapping of a French ICRC worker and five Chadian colleagues near the Sudanese border this week, and French NGO Solidarités, which lost a Chadian employee earlier this month.

As reported by PHR investigators in Nowhere to Turn: Failure to Protect, Support, and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women, Darfuri refugees in the Farchana Camp in eastern Chad are entirely reliant on the aid provided by UN and humanitarian agencies and face daily threats to their health and security. A September report from Amnesty International supported PHR’s findings at Camp Farchana and further spoke to the volatile security situation in eastern Chad, where more than 50 armed attacks on humanitarian workers have taken place during 2009. Armed banditry has been a persistent security threat, and is cited as the biggest danger facing Darfuri women and girls when they leave UNHCR camps to collect water and firewood.

PHR and other groups have long called for the implementation of firewood patrols around UNHCR camps in eastern Chad, where women and girls have to travel up to 30 kilometers away from camp to collect firewood for cooking, water to supplement the inadequate rations available in the camps and hay or straw to feed animals they raise for milk and meat.

Forced to leave the camp in order to satisfy basic human needs of themselves and of their family members, Darfuri refugees plead with peacekeepers assigned to their protection, with little effect. The MINURCAT peacekeeping force and Détachement intégré de Sécurité (DIS) police units fail to provide for the security needs of the refugees; as reported in the September Amnesty International report, refugees report rebukes by DIS, telling refugees to take up their issues with camp administrators.

It is clear from events in recent weeks that the security situation in eastern Chad is insufficient for humanitarian access: aid agencies providing life-saving assistance to Darfuri refugees must be assured security for their convoys and for their international and Chadian employees. The UN should immediately review MINURCAT operationality and renew calls to donor governments to ensure full deployment of MINURCAT uniformed personnel to protect Darfuri refugees and humanitarians in Chad, along with all necessary military and other material, including military helicopters.

PHR continues to encourage all troop-contributing countries and police-contributing countries to recruit female officers for protection units trained to address sexual and gender-based violence and to increase funding of humanitarian operations in Chad and Sudan, to ensure the provision of healthcare services to survivors of gender-based violence.

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