SIDO, Chad — The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, first received reports on June 13 that refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) who were looking for safety in Chad may have been turned away. If the allegations are true, then it is cause for serious concern.
The UNHCR released a statement expressing that it had reason to believe that refugees attempting to enter Chad at the Sido border, located in southern central Chad, had been denied access. The UNHCR does not yet have the exact number of people allegedly expelled from the country. However, if the reports are true, then the actions of Chad are in violation of the international law of non-refoulement, no forced returns.
Violence first erupted in the Central African Republic in December of 2012. The Muslim rebel forces, called Seleka, are fighting against the government and have taken over many areas in the majority-Christian country. The civil war has caused over 226,000 people from CAR to flee into surrounding countries, including Chad, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Congo.
As the fighting continues, many have sought to escape into Chad and neighboring nations. Over the past 6 months, approximately 14,000 refugees have flooded into Chad alone, entering from various parts of the border. The recent influx brings the total number of people from CAR living in Chad to 90,000.
The refugees arriving are in dire need of assistance. According to the UNHCR, many have visible signs of hunger and exhaustion. The road to safety in Chad is a long and treacherous one for refugees as some travel over 300 miles to reach the border. The walk, on foot, can take from two to four months for some.
The World Food Program, WFP, reports that about 31 percent of refugees from CAR arrive severely malnourished. When fleeing the CAR, the refugees have little access to food and water and therefore rely heavily on aid when they reach Chad and other countries. The WFP has also found that hunger is affecting both adults and children refugees.
The need for aid for refugees from CAR is critical. Unfortunately, the conflict in the CAR has not received much international attention and has been over shadowed by other crises, including the current crisis in Syria and Iraq. As a result, aid agencies are having a difficult time obtaining funds for CAR refugees. The WFP reported a $15 million deficit in donations for CAR relief funds. With nearly 90 percent of necessary funds missing, the WFP along side UNHCR and other NGOs are running out of resources.
The UNHCR is currently asking all neighboring countries to allow the refugees safe passage. If Chad expelled CAR refugees from its border, then the people seeking a secure place to stay were forced to return to their unsafe country. Based on the findings of the WFP and UNHCR, it is likely that many who were expelled suffer from malnutrition. This combination leaves those refugees in an extremely vulnerable state.