Chad is grappling with an influx of refugees and returnees into its south-eastern regions, mainly from neighbouring Sudan, and others from the Central African Republic (CAR) following a series of inter-ethnic clashes in Darfur and a recent coup in the CAR, respectively.
At least 74,000 people have fled into Chad from Darfur in the past two months, 50,000 of them in the past week alone, sparking the largest influx of refugees from Sudan into Chad since 2005, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Waves of refugees
In March, the first wave of 24,000 people fled from Darfur and arrived in Tissi, a remote area in Chad’s southeastern Sila Region; 8,000 were Sudanese and 16,000 Chadians. Most of them are women and children.
"Under every tree, there are women and children who are trying to protect themselves from sunshine," Abdellahi Ould El Bah, a UNHCR programme officer on mission in Tissi, told IRIN.
UNHCR staff on the ground say they “found women and children very scared, exhausted with haggard eyes”.
In Tissi, basic amenities are lacking.
“People lack everything and are living in very dire conditions. They need food, water and shelter. People are obliged to drink water from the river,” Aminata Gueye, the UNHCR representative in Chad, told IRIN. “Those who are wounded need healthcare, while health centres or clinics in Tissi [are] not functional.”
Access to Tissi by air is impossible, meaning aid workers have to spend eight hours by road, and they have to cross 21 wadis (seasonal rivers).
With insecurity rife, more refugees are expected. "We fear a new wave of refugees in the next few days, as there are reports of continuing violence on the side of Darfur," said Gueye.
Most recently, clashes have been recorded between the Misseriya and Salamat ethnic groups in Um Dukhum, Darfur, with dozens of deaths reported.
On 12 April, UNHCR started the relocation of at least 8,000 Sudanese refugees from Tissi, to the Goz Amir and Djabal refugee camps in Sila Region. The relocation is expected to help in the provision of assistance to the new arrivals and to improve their security.
Local authorities have provided some 100 ton of food for the new arrivals, with UNHCR and partners coordinating efforts to provide emergency assistance in Tissi.
Refugee population already large
The new refugee influx constitutes a huge challenge for UNHCR, which was already facing limited resources as it provided protection and assistance to the large numbers of refugees in Chad. Months earlier, UNHCR and the governments of Chad and Sudan had started discussions on the return of Sudanese refugees to Darfur.
Eastern Chad is already home to about 300,000 refugees from Darfur and thousands of others from CAR. Chad has, since December 2012, received at least 4,000 new refugees from CAR, in addition to some 65,000 already there, according to a 6 April update by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Besides the new refugees, Chad is also grappling with the returns of hundreds of Chadian migrants released from detention centres in Libya.
“It is with great concern that the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is monitoring the multiple migration crises currently developing along the Chadian borders. IOM is already responding to the influx of 1,200 extremely vulnerable Chadian migrants returning to Chad after having been released from detention centres in Libya.
“At the same [time], IOM is in the process of providing life-saving assistance, including homeward transportation, to over 17,000 Chadian migrants, [that] are fleeing the intercommunity violence in Sudan, that are arriving in remote border towns in Chad without means to support themselves,” Qasim Sufi, IOM chief of mission in Chad, told IRIN.
Medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is treating the wounded in Tissi, with serious cases being referred to the towns of Goz Beida or Abéché.
At the same time, teams are trying to contend with an outbreak of measles in a nearby area: “In Saraf Bourgou only, our team has confirmed 35 cases of measles, which represents 25 percent of consultations,” said Alexandre Morhain, MSF’s head of mission in Chad. “The disease has already killed seven children, five of whom were under five years old.”
An emergency measles vaccination campaign is expected to be launched in Tissi, with severe acute malnutrition cases and paediatric emergencies also being treated.
According to MSF, the situation of the refugees there is precarious as the rains approach. “We need to act now, because within two months it will be impossible to access this area by road.”