GENEVA, Switzerland, March 19, 2018-This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s (March 16, 2018) press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva:
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is increasingly alarmed at the plight of thousands of Central African refugees who have fled to southern Chad since late last year, many of whom lack food, shelter and access to medical care.
This influx is the biggest since 2014, and overwhelming the ability of humanitarian agencies to respond. UNHCR’s office needs some USD$149 million this year to meet urgent needs in Chad, yet as of now has received just 2 per cent of this amount.
In December 2017, fighting between armed groups in northwest Central African Republic (CAR) led to the internal displacement of some 65,000 people in the city of Paoua and 5,000 in Markounda. Continued insecurity forced an additional 22,180 to flee persecution and violence to nearby Chad.
These refugees have settled in more than 40 villages and four camps around the town of Goré, in an area already hosting some 43,000 Central African refugees and 45,000 Chadian returnees from CAR. Their protection and wellbeing is a serious cause for concern to us. Southern Chad, including Goré, is one of poorest and most underdeveloped parts of the country, which currently faces a deep socio-economic crisis.
Food shortages and rising prices are posing a direct threat to the lives of the refugees and the host population, who are sharing with the new arrivals their meagre food and other resources. Since last December, more than 15 Central Africans refugees have been killed on both sides of the border and at least 67 have been subjected to sexual and gender based violence while trying to go back to CAR to gather food and complement their scarce resources in exile.
As severe floods have affected this season’s harvest, food reserves at family and community levels are almost exhausted. Many are eating leaves and wild fruit, which are often toxic. The next harvest is far off in November, and sufficient and quality seeds are not available to plant.
Without increased food aid, the refugees could be facing many more months of food shortages. Since the start of the crisis, UNHCR and partners have been providing protection, healthcare, water and sanitation, shelter, basic relief items, food and nutrition assistance to newly arrived refugees.
As the rainy season is fast approaching, an additional urgent need is accommodation. While some 5,659 refugees have found refuge in existing camps, 16,520 refugees are in host villages near the border. UNHCR is building emergency shelter in the camps and villages that host them, while also working with the authorities, partners and donors on a relocation plan, for refugees to move away from the border area to villages or camps, considered by the authorities to be more secure.
The situation with refugees’ health is also critical. Malnutrition levels are already high, especially with children. The worry and real risk is that food shortages for the entire population over the next month’s may have devastating consequences.
More mobile clinics are urgently needed and the capacities of local health centres need to be strengthened to alleviate the heavy toll taken by respiratory infections, malaria and other ailments.
While the situation in northwest CAR is currently calm, it remains highly volatile, and more refugees could seek safety in Chad if further waves of violence break out.
Thanks to the government of Chad the refugees have been able to access Chadian territory and find refuge, even though the border is officially closed. In total, there are some 632,000 people under UNHCR’s care in Chad, in great need for international support.