Influx of Sudanese Refugees Into East Swells to 65,000 Since April—UN Agency

United Nations (New York), 2 September 2003

The number of Sudanese refugees heading to eastern Chad for safety since April—fleeing clashes between the Government and rebels in the western part of the country—has now reached some 65,000, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva said that thousands of desperate people are fleeing fighting in the Darfur region of western Sudan, but added that many are being hampered by heavy rain.

It is the rainy season in Chad, and many of the refugees are showing signs of exposure, suffering from pneumonia and similar ailments, said UNHCR's Rupert Coleville, adding that agency officials, along with two members of the Chadian Parliament and a UN World Food Programme (WFP) official are now on an assessment mission to villages around Abeche and Adre to ascertain the needs of the refugees.

Mr. Coleville said refugees first began fleeing western Sudan in April, and the influx continues. They have largely been taken care of by local residents in Chad, who come from the same ethnic group, he added.

With a fragile truce holding between the Khartoum government and southern rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), while peace talks continue in Kenya, the Darfur area has now become Sudan's main battlefront.

Last Friday, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) accused Khartoum government forces of killing 46 civilians and destroying scores of villages in North Darfur State, a charge denied by the government. UNHCR officials in eastern Chad quoted the latest refugees as saying they had been targeted by gunfire from aircraft.

In other news from the region, the transfer of 15,000 Sudanese refugees from Kiryandongo camp in Uganda's Masindi District got off to a difficult start yesterday as stone-throwing refugee youths staged violent resistance to the government-organized relocation to northern Uganda. The refugees had been displaced from Achol-Pii refugee settlement in Kitgum district last August following a series of vicious attacks by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army on the former settlement of 24,000.

According to accounts by refugees in Kiryandongo, after people began boarding the more than 32 trucks sent to the camp by the government, Sudanese youths tried to bar other refugees from getting on to the trucks. Seven refugees were injured in the ensuing mêlée, two of them seriously. Among the injured was an eight-year-old child.

By mid-afternoon, calm had returned to the camp. A total of 19 trucks departed Kiryandongo for the north—to Madi Okollo in Uganda's northern Arua district and to Ikafe in Yumbe—in an operation that is expected to be completed by mid-September. All logistics and security for the relocation exercise are being handled by the government of Uganda.