Chad hosted more than 156,000 refugees at the end of 2003, including some 115,000 from Sudan and more than 41,000 from Central African Republic.
About 6,000 Chadians were refugees at year's end, including some 3,000 in Nigeria, nearly 2,000 in Central African Republic (CAR), and more than 1,000 in Gabon.
Major Influxes in 2003
During 2003, tens of thousands of refugees from Sudan and CAR flooded into Chad. Nearly all of the new refugees arrived to remote border areas, where they struggled to survive among extremely poor local Chadian populations and out of reach of the relatively few international humanitarian organizations that worked in Chad before 2003. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reopened several offices in Chad to address the new influxes, reestablishing a presence after funding shortages forced the agency to leave the country in 2002.
Refugees from Sudan
Violence erupted in western Sudan's Darfur region in early 2003 pushing nearly 100,000 Sudanese refugees into the remote desert region of eastern Chad during the year.
Most of the Sudanese refugees who fled to Chad during 2003 remained strewn along a 375-mile (600 km) stretch of border, where they struggling to survive under difficult humanitarian and climatic conditions, at year's end. Absent international assistance, which was slow to arrive, the majority of the Sudanese population battled extremely harsh weather and relied on the generosity of the local population. Chadian villagers provided already scarce food and water to refugees upon their arrival. The sizeable Sudanese influx, however, quickly exhausted meager local resources.
Tens of thousands of refugees, many who fled with minimal personal belongings, had no choice but to live in the open and endure sandstorms and temperatures that exceeded 120 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Centigrade) during the day and fell below freezing during the night.
The Chadian government did not alert UNHCR or other humanitarian organizations to the presence of the Sudanese refugees until August. A joint UNHCR, World Food Programme (WFP), and Chadian government mission first visited eastern Chad to assess the influx in late August, confirming the presence of more than 65,000 refugees. Thousands more arrived during late 2003, including some 30,000 who arrived in December.
The refugee population was also susceptible to cross-border Sudanese government and militia attacks. UNHCR scrambled to locate sites with water a safe distance from the Chad-Sudan border to construct camps to house the refugees. UNHCR identified at least one location to begin construction, but was unable to relocate any refugees by year's end.
Some 12,000 refugees who fled Sudan's civil war in the late 1990s continued to live in Chad at the end of 2003. Most resided among local populations at remote sites in the eastern part of the country, near the town of Abeche. Some 1,000 lived in N'Djamena, the capital. UNHCR stopped food distributions to the refugee population in 2001, after judging them self-sufficient.
Refugees from Central African Republic
Continued poor security and a coup in neighboring Central African Republic in mid-March forced more than 40,000 mainly northern CAR residents into southern Chad. The majority of the Central African refugee population arrived in February and settled in the remote, road-less southern desert along the Chad-CAR border, some 600 miles (1,000 km) from N'Djamena. The UN and international community were slow to answer repeated urgent calls for assistance. "International aid agencies seem reluctant to act," Médecins Sans Frontières-Belgium (MSF), who began working in the refugee zone in late 2002, reported in March.
During the initial influx, Chadian soldiers harassed refugees with robberies, beatings, and unsuccessful attempted abductions of women in and around the border town of Gore. Local authorities intervened and ordered the military out of the area.
Although UNHCR constructed three camps, Amboko, Sido, and Maro, to accommodate the population and sent relief supplies to the area in April, a food security assessment conducted by MSF in late May found that 30 percent of children under five year's old were at risk of acute malnutrition. "Since March, the refugees have received a total of 18 pounds (8 kg) of cereal per person: less than a third of the amount required," MSF reported. UNHCR eventually relocated some 28,000 refugees to the new camps, where they remained at year's end. Thousands of others chose to remain near the Chad-CAR border.
Refugees from Chad
Decades of civil wars and armed insurrections pushed tens of thousands of Chadians out of the country. Most of Chad has been peaceful in recent years, enabling significant numbers of refugees to repatriate. Although about 6,000 still lived in neighboring countries, UNHCR's voluntary repatriation program ended in mid-2001 when no more refugees requested help to return home.
About 30,000 Chadians continued to live in Cameroon after fleeing there up to 30 years ago. Most appeared increasingly unlikely to repatriate because they had already integrated into local communities and were largely self-sufficient. The U.S. Committee for Refugees no longer classifies them as refugee-like.
Violence in CAR forced some 15,000 Chadian migrants and their children who had lived in CAR for several years to return to Chad in early 2003. USCR does not count them as refugee returnees (see Central African Republic Country Update.)