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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 September 2005, 05:32 GMT 06:32 UK
CAR refugees flee mystery attacks
By Stephanie Hancock
BBC News, southern Chad

Hungry people clutching ration cards crowd into a food distribution centre in Amboko refugee camp in southern Chad.

A CAR refugee received his sorghum ration at Amboko camp in southern Chad
A sack of sorghum must last this man's family 25 days
These refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) are anxious to get their sack of sorghum which will have to last them for the next 25 days, until ration-time comes around again.

Until a few weeks ago, the population at Amboko was just under 14,000, but since violence broke out in CAR in early June, more than 8,000 new refugees have arrived.

In total, there are now more than 40,000 refugees in this part of Chad.

Terrorising villagers

It is unclear who is behind the violence that is making people flee their homes.

They took all our belongings - our food, our clothes, our shoes
CAR refugee

But all the refugees tell a very similar story: unidentified groups of armed men are storming villages in the far north of CAR, shooting randomly, looting homes and terrorising villagers.

"It was 9 August. I was at home alone," says a refugee, who didn't want to give his name, describing the arrival of the armed men.

"I don't know where they'd come from. They broke down the door and began asking me questions I couldn't understand. They took all our belongings - our food, our clothes, our shoes.

"Then they forced me to carry the belongings they'd stolen for some way, before they finally let me go. I fled immediately with my wife and children."

'Surprise'

With these new arrivals, Amboko camp has almost reached its maximum capacity of 27,000, and the United Nations refugee agency is struggling to cope with demand.

A mother and child outside their tent in Amboko camp, southern Chad
This woman holding her ration card is one of some 40,000 who have fled violence in CAR

UN guidelines say each refugee should have 20 litres of water a day, but currently they can only provide 12 litres per person.

And while it's also difficult providing enough food for these refugees, there are more stuck in villages near the border, awaiting help.

In remote Mballa village a woman from CAR explains how she had been working in the fields when her children ran to tell her of shooting in the village.

"I just had time to grab some water and we ran straight from the fields.

"I was so surprised; I didn't have time to go home to collect anything," she says.

Limbo

UN staff have visited Mballa to register these 800 new arrivals, and each refugee wears a white bracelet which means they are on a list to be transferred to Amboko camp.

Women and children from CAR awaiting assistance in Mballa village
Sometimes women take pity on us when my children cry, and give us peanuts
Monica, CAR refugee

But until a delivery of tents arrives, these refugees cannot be moved and are living in limbo.

"Since we arrived here we haven't eaten a single proper meal," says Monica, who has slept under a tree for the last month with her four children.

"Sometimes women take pity on us when my children cry, and give us peanuts. I give these to my children though, I'm just been drinking hot water."

Sharing

To make matters worse, local villagers are also suffering because this year's crop has failed.

"We're right on the border, so we're obliged to take these refugees in. But we've been hit by famine ourselves, so it's very hard. There's nothing to eat," says Beosso Simon, the district chief.

A girl from CAR at Mballa in Chad wearing a white UN bracelet indicating she will be moved to a refugee camp
Some refugees are relying on the charity of local villagers

"Everything we eat, we've been sharing with the refugees. But we must support them - tomorrow it could be us in this situation."

The UN says it is doing all it can but its resources are limited and its staff overwhelmed.

"Should there be new refugees, we don't have resources to respond," George Menze, UN head of operations in the region, says.

"We have an urgent need for shelter, cooking equipment, health, water and everything necessary for an adequate life."

As news comes in that the delivery of tents is finally about to arrive, there are also reports that more than 2,000 new refugees have just crossed the border.

With no-one able to predict when the refugees will stop coming, the pressure here in southern Chad is mounting daily.




SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Central African Republic
18 Aug 05 |  Country profiles



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