ICRC closes family reunification programme in refugee camps

The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) has ended its family reunification programme in refugee camps in southern Chad, where about 41,000 people from the Central African Republic (CAR) have been living since March 2003, an official told IRIN on Saturday.

"All the 81 non-accompanied children whom we had registered have rejoined their families in CAR either by their own means or within the ICRC programme," Bruno Legeard, the ICRC representative in the CAR, said.

He said that the ICRC office in Sarh, a town in southern Chad, had closed after the last two children were flown to CAR on Wednesday. The boys, 12 and 14 years old, reached Bossangoa, 305 km north of the CAR capital, Bangui, where the ICRC handed them over to their parents in the presence of local administrative authorities. They had been living in Camp Gore in southern Chad.

Legeard said that three other children who were due to be among those to be reunified with their families had gone home on their own.

"After Bossangoa, we went to Paoua [506 km northwest of Bangui] and realised that the three children had actually rejoined their parents," Legeard said.

He added that although the programme was closed, the ICRC would continue to collaborate with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in case other children wished to rejoin their parents in CAR.

The 81 children included three who were reunified with their families in December 2003 and two on 21 January. To locate the parents, the ICRC used a mailing system between parents and children. Most parents hastened to claim their children after receiving mail from them. But Legeard said that some children had preferred to stay in camps for various reasons, including on-going schooling and the presence of relatives in the camps.

The ICRC family reunification programme in CAR refugee camps in Chad was part of a larger emergency programme worth US $2.2 million, which ended in December 2003. The six-month programme included water, sanitation and medical programmes.

Legeard said that from January to December, the ICRC would implement another 763,000 Swiss francs [$614,000] water and sanitation programme in eight towns, including Bangui. The ICRC has already provided the state water utility, the Société de Distribution d'Eau en Centrafrique (Sodeca), with water purification chemicals, generators, pumps and other equipment.

"We want to enable Sodeca to have buffer stocks for at least six months so that it may be able to supply water when difficulties in chemical supplies appear," Legeard said.

He added that in December 2003, the ICRC had provided 149 mt of chemicals and that another 101 mt had reached Bangui in January. Also, he said, three generators were shipped to Bangui and one of them has been installed in Bossangoa, where Sodeca resumed water supplies on 15 January.

Like other facilities, water installations were badly damaged during the six-month civil war that ended on 15 March 2003 and pitted rebels loyal to current CAR leader Francois Bozize against government troops.

Legeard said that Sodeca would receive pipes and other spare parts from the ICRC to replace the old or damaged ones. He said most of the equipment was in the Cameroonian seaport of Douala en route to Bangui.

Sodeca would also be equipped with a water leakage control system and be assisted by ICRC water engineers in constructing clean water kiosks, he said.