U.N. officials warned Monday that community hostility in Chad is rising as thousands of refugees from conflict-ridden Sudan continue to arrive, putting pressure on limited resources Chadians depend on for their livelihoods and survival.
“People in Chad have been displaced from their own communities because the pressure of the many refugees that have arrived has even pushed them further into the country and displaced them from their natural homes,” said Madeleine Alingue, secretary of state for economic prosperity and international partnerships in Chad.
“We really think that if we do not take care of the host communities, this hostility, the tension can be brought up and we can have instability in that region,” she said.
Eastern Chad is facing an unprecedented new influx of refugees and returnees from Sudan. The U.N. refugee agency reports nearly 490,000 Sudanese have sought refuge in Chad since April 15, when armed clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces plunged the country into a catastrophic war.
The UNHCR projects more than 600,000 Sudanese refugees and Chadian returnees will arrive in eastern Chad before the end of the year.
“Chad is living in an unstable regional situation, bordered by countries in a state of crisis,” said Alingue. “Our border with Libya is in crisis, so is Niger, the Central African Republic and Sudan,” she said, noting that Chad, with its open-door policy, has received many refugees fleeing these surrounding countries in crisis.
“This is putting enormous pressure on our resources, which are limited,” she said, noting that only one-fourth of the more than $920 million needed for lifesaving operations in the country has been received.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, reports 5.7 million people are food insecure, with 2.1 million suffering from acute hunger.
“People have just gone through the worst lean period in a decade,” said Violet Kakyomya, U.N. resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator in Chad.
She said that the lean period, the time before the next harvest, is when food stocks are at their lowest and “people have been unable to meet their basic food needs.”
She said people in Chad are living in one of the countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change. “We have suffered from floods and drought, affecting more than 7 million people out of a population of 18 million.”
Despite the many challenges, Kakyomya said Chad has always been welcoming to refugees. Over the past two decades, and during periods of violence and the arrival of new refugees, she said Chad still managed to engage in a vibrant trading relationship with Sudan.
Since Sudan has become a war zone, she said trade between the two countries has stopped, creating great difficulties for both the refugee and local host communities in Chad.
“The local population is turning up more and more at food distribution sites,” she said. “They want food for themselves. They are expressing their needs. We cannot just watch them standing by while we assist the refugees. We need to assist them as well,” she said.
U.N. officials have been meeting with international donors in Geneva to describe the dire humanitarian situation in Chad. The U.N. is also seeking to persuade them to fill the large funding gap threatening the ability of aid agencies to respond to the food, forced displacement, health and climate change emergencies facing the population.
Resident coordinator Kakyomya said, “The response to eastern Chad must be multi-dimensional. It is not just a response to the refugees, but a response to the needs of the host community is crucial.
“This is very fertile ground for social instability and conflict,” she warned.