Life for Darfuri Refugees in Chad Still Desperate

Amnesty International researchers just completed a mission to Chad to investigate the growing number of Darfuri refugees there.  Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty Canada, has been documenting the mission:

Amnesty International delegation with Marie Larlem, Coordinator of the Association for the Promotion of Fundamental Liberties in Chad.

We left Chad [on Tuesday], with heavy hearts, a sense of regret that much of our work was curtailed because of insecurity, and a determination to intensify our efforts to bring safety back to eastern Chad.  And as always — after spending time at the frontlines of human rights struggle — we have also left with the inspiration of this country’s many courageous and ingenious human rights defenders well lodged in our hearts and minds.

When I was last in eastern Chad with an Amnesty team, in late 2006, safety and security was the overwhelming concern.  In the face of relentless Janjawid attacks from Darfur, people throughout the east were left to fend for themselves.  The Chadian military and police did not care enough to help. Their only preoccupation was fending off the efforts of armed opposition groups to topple the government.  There was no international force on the ground.  There was nothing.  And the cost was immense: thousands killed and injured, untold number of women raped, and hundreds of villages razed to the ground.

We called on the international community to respond.  And they did.  But more than a year later, with several thousand European and UN soldiers having passed through the region and with hundreds of international and Chadian police tasked with providing protection to refugees, displaced Chadians and humanitarian workers, eastern Chad is still a very dangerous place to be.  It is especially dangerous for women and girls who take major risks every day when they head far outside refugee camps and displacement sites in search of firewood, hay and water.

In 2006 we called on the international community to go to eastern Chad.  Now we will call on the international community to strengthen and improve the mission they have established.  And we will insist that the Chadian government itself play a more central role in protecting human rights in the region, including by finally ensuring that the lawlessness and impunity that plagues this country comes to an end.  There must be a concerted effort to bring to justice the people who are responsible for widespread human rights violations throughout eastern Chad and the rest of the country, including beating and raping women, killing and attacking humanitarian workers, and recruiting child soldiers.

We began that work towards the end of our mission.  We had meetings with senior French and US diplomats in N’Djamena, two countries whose influence here is considerable.  We began laying out recommendations for action: steps the international community needs to take, and steps that the government of Chad must be pressed to take.  We will refine our recommendations over the coming days as we pull together the findings of our research over the past two weeks.  No doubt there will be more work with members of the UN Security Council in New York.  And we will certainly want to make sure that governments hear the powerful worldwide voices of Amnesty International’s members, insisting that insecurity give way to justice in eastern Chad.

As we leave, yes, my heart is heavy.

But the heaviness is made much lighter by the great work underway here.  I had a chance to reconnect with several remarkable human rights defenders I had met and worked with during our May 2008 mission to N’Djamena.

Blaise, the tenacious journalist whose independent radio station, FM Liberté, had been forced to close last year, is back on the air covering issues that matter, issues of justice, fairness and equality.

Celine, whose irrepressible energy in working with marginalized women was matched only by the power of the motorcycle with which she roared into neighbourhoods across the city, is still at it even though she has had some worrying anonymous death threats.

And Marie, the head of the Association for the Promotion of Fundamental Liberties in Chad, who we had to meet in exile across the border in Cameroon last year because of threats she had received, is once again at her desk, overseeing a growing nationwide independent human rights organization.

And this trip has introduced us to so many more.

I will of course long recall Houada, the brave journalist taking to the airwaves to discuss violence against women.

And remember Isaak, the Darfuri refugee and schoolteacher who has once been abducted from his classroom by armed opposition groups but goes on because he knows how important it is to “feed the minds” of young refugee children.

And be humbled when I think of our driver, Ibrahim, whose first concern, after being held captive by armed bandits for 6 or 7 hours was to ask about the safety of the Amnesty team.

Alongside these men and women, and the many others working for change in Chad, we will push on.  There is no other option.

- Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada

Read more from the Amnesty International Chad mission blog >>

Amnesty Researchers On-the-Ground in Chad

Amnesty International researchers are currently on-the-ground in Chad investigating the growing numbers of refugees streaming across the border from Darfur.  Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty Canada, has been documenting the mission online.  Here is an excerpt from a podcast posted yesterday detailing the still desperate situation:

Darfuri refugee women and girls at Bredjing camp filling water containers.

Darfuri refugee women and girls at Bredjing camp filling water containers.

“They are there on their own.”

Those words have been haunting us all day.   We have now come further east from Abéché to Farchana.  Within perhaps a 30-40 kilometre semi-circle around Farchana there are 3 major refugee camps as well as 12 sites for displaced Chadians.  Farchana itself is not far from Chad’s border with Darfur.

Our intention today had been to travel to one of the sites for displaced Chadians in this region, Arkoum.  We want to make it to several IDP sites during our mission because we have certainly come to understand that their safety and well-being is extremely precarious.

It is a universal story.  Without any doubt refugees, including Darfuri refugees here in Chad, face considerable hardship, insecurity and violence.  The international community does, however, have a much clearer role and responsibility for their protection.  Not so with IDP’s, who remain, of course, citizens of the country, in this case Chad.  Here, as is so often the case around the world, Chadians displaced within their own country have only minimal protection.  Largely abandoned by their own government and not fully protected by the international community.  And of course, still very near to the terrible human rights violations that forced them from their homes in the first place.

It is so important that we get access to some of the sites, to see and hear first hand the challenges displaced Chadians face.   But while the refugee camps are all within fairly easy reach of the town of Farchana, our base, the sites for IDP’s are more remote and difficult to reach.  And because of growing security concerns in eastern Chad, in the wake of a rebel incursion far to the south of here in Goz Beida, the UN decided today to cancel plans for a convoy to Arkoum, which we would have been part of.  Instead we travelled to a nearby refugee camp, Bredjing, and spent the day working with Darfuri refugees.

A human rights monitor with the Association for the Promotion of Fundamental Rights in Chad who is usually based in Arkoum had intended to travel back out to the site with us today, but was obviously unable to do so.  His worry was palpable.  It was he who kept saying: “ils sont là; tous seuls” – they are there on their own.

It all comes down to security.  In the midst of insecurity, the full range of human rights teeters and collapses.  That of course has been the horrible reality in both eastern Chad and Darfur for the past five years.  Insecurity means killings and rape; homes destroyed and crops burned.  But it also means education, health, food and water supplies, and livelihoods are also turned inside out.

And it is still insecurity that reigns in eastern Chad.  When I was here with an Amnesty team in late 2006 the local population, thousands of whom had recently been chased from their homes in a brutal wave of attacks, felt completely abandoned.   The sad truth is that 2 ½ years later, even though international troops and police are now deployed here, displaced Chadians remain at terrible risk.

And whenever security concerns arise here, as they have again, they are the first to be cut off, the first to be abandoned.  In so many respects, the most vulnerable yet the least protected.  As our friend kept saying, they are on their own.  We must find a way to stand with them.

- Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada

To listen to the original podcast and read more about the mission to Chad, visit the Amnesty Canada Mission Blog.