Food and Shelter Urgently Needed for Central African Republic Refugees in Chad

New York/Brussels, March 18, 2003 – Following the March 15 seizure of power in the Central African Republic (CAR) by General Bozizé, the situation for the nearly 30,000 Central African refugees taking refuge in the south of Chad is becoming more precarious by the day. Yet as the crisis deepens, international aid agencies seem reluctant to react.

According to the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) emergency coordinator in Chad, Sonia Payrassol, "The victory for General Bozizé is not a cause for celebration for the refugees in Chad, it can't bring back the homes and crops that have been burned and it can't take away the fear of many that return to CAR remains impossible at this time."

Children in the camp of Gore.
Photo ©Antonella Vitale/MSF

In addition to rampant insecurity in CAR and widespread ethnicity-linked reprisals, the war has amplified what was already a savage land conflict between farmers and herders. For the refugees in Chad, who are predominantly farmers, the conclusion of the civil war between ex-President Patassé and the new self-proclaimed President Bozizé is far from a signal to return home.

On the contrary, the influx of refugees to Chad is continuing and their condition is deteriorating. According to Payrassol, "the wealthiest among them are obvious because they have a sleeping mat and a cooking pot, but even they have nothing to eat. The amount of food distributed to the refugees so far has been too little in terms of both content and quantity."

Food distribution in the camp of Gore.
Photo ©Antonella Vitale/MSF

Furthermore, the great majority of the refugees have no shelter and remain scattered around the border villages sleeping in the streets. Many of these villages have seen their populations double or triple at a time when the dry season means that even in normal circumstances water and food is already scarce. One example is the village of Koumba, which has only one well and has seen its population rise from 300 to 2100. And the influx is showing no sign of abating. In the village of Maro alone, over 1000 refugees have arrived in the last few days.

Since the beginning of the crisis in November 2002, MSF has repeatedly called for aid but remains the only organization to have reacted in any serious way, in addition to supplying medical aid, it is constructing refugee transit camps with a capacity of 2000 at Goré and Danamadji, two villages near to the Chad/CAR border. Both of these camps are already filled to capacity.

A family in front of their shelter in the camp of Gore.
Photo ©Antonella Vitale/MSF

Food and shelter are urgently needed for the 26,000 refugees with nothing already in the area and time is short. As such, MSF is again calling on international agencies to fulfil their mandates and assist comprehensively and with greater rapidity to prevent the situation from further deteriorating.