Thousands of Chadians, most of them children, have returned home, fleeing insecurity in parts of neighbouring Central Africa Republic (CAR), Darfur, Libya and Nigeria. The returnees, most of whom are seeking shelter in their country’s remote border regions, are in need of emergency assistance in the form of protection and basic services, according to a senior humanitarian official.
“Due to instabilities in the neighbouring countries, Chad is currently experiencing [returnee] influxes from Sudan (Tissi), Libya (Faya), Nigeria (N’Gouboua) and the Central African Republic (Maro),” Qasim Sufi, the IOM chief of mission in Chad, told IRIN in an e-mail. “They lack all protection and basic needs, including food, shelter, medical [care] and education.”
“Moreover, some children are without their parents due to either death or separation from their parents,” added Sufi, noting that a lack of funds, as well as poor infrastructure and insecurity in the remote parts of Chad, where the returnees are, are the main challenges in providing emergency assistance.
Among the returnees is a “very high percentage of children,” he noted.
Children most affected
In the Chad-Darfur border town of Tissi, for example, out of the 22,000 Chadian returnees, 15,826 - or 72 percent - are children. Most of the families in Tissi are also female-headed, “as men remained back to protect their properties,” explained Sufi.
Of the 1,300 Chadian returnees from Nigeria, 771, or 60 percent, are children. These returnees are in the Chad-Nigeria border village of N’Gouboua, where 268 of the children are unaccompanied minors.
The children, some with their families, are fleeing inter-communal conflict in western Sudan and violent clashes between the national army and Boko Haram elements in Nigeria. Chadian Koranic students are also among those who have returned home from Nigeria.
A spate of clashes this year in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, pitting the Misseriya and Salamat ethnic groups against each other, has also forced thousands to flee.
CAR has been experiencing growing insecurity and need since the March rebel ouster of the government there, while Chadian returnees from Libya include former migrant families returning home amid diminishing opportunities in Libya.
Besides the returnees’ situation, Chad is also grappling with a growing refugee burden.
Between January and April, at least 30,000 Sudanese refugees arrived in Tissi, a majority of them women and children, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Chad. The refugees were fleeing conflict in neighbouring Darfur.
“The refugees arrived in about 20 sites in southeastern Chad, settling very close to the border and living in makeshift shelters with little protection. Moreover, conflict continues in Sudan and very close to the border,” said UNHCR. The refugees have since been relocated to the Abgadam camp, about 40km from the Sudanese border.
According to a 3 July UNHCR Chad emergency update, the agency, alongside the government and partners, are “exploring ways to assist refugees at Abgadam camp,” amid the “ongoing clashes at the border [and] an existing protracted refugee situation of some 300,000 refugees along [Chad’s] eastern border.”
A common need among the refugee and returnee children in Chad is education. But there are challenges integrating the children into Chad’s education system.
“Children who were born and grew up outside Chad face serious challenges in adapting to the education systems in the country that, if [they] do exist in their locations, [are] either in French or Chadian Arabic,” explained IOM’s Sufi.
To help to address this, IOM is working with Chadian education delegates and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in the affected areas to meet the education needs of children who do not speak either language.
UNHCR, the Jesuit Refugee Service, UNICEF and the Chadian Regional Department of Education “are currently setting up summer courses for children in order to allow refugee children to catch up on last year`s curriculum”.
“At the beginning of the school year, children will be integrated in[to] the Arabic curriculum of the government of Chad much like all other refugee children in the camps”.