Chad

A mother flees in search of safety, again – this time in Chad

Khadidja Dramane describes being uprooted by conflict – most recently by fighting in the Central African Republic.

 

A migrant, a refugee and now a returnee to her native Chad, a mother fleeing violence with her children is still unable to return home.

TISSI, Chad, 30 December 2013 – Khadidja Dramane* has reached the age of 50 without really knowing where to call home. Most recently she fled the Central African Republic. “First the rebels and the Government clashed. Then came the Janjaweed,” she says, referring to militia groups operating in western Sudan. “They are robbers. They kill people, burn villages, then steal the livestock. I travelled for six days on a truck to get here.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
“We arrived in March and I would really like to move on – to my home region of Salamat, in southern Chad, where my mother lives,” says Khadidja Dramane (above).

Safety, for the moment, is Tissi – an inhospitable, isolated and unstable area on the south-eastern tip of Chad. In the past nine months, UNICEF and its partners, with support from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO), have joined other agencies in an effort to make the area livable for the estimated 50,000 people who have arrived here.

They have principally come from the east, escaping ethnic clashes in the Darfur region of Sudan, but also from the volatile Central African Republic, to the south. Tissi's saving grace is that the town is a few kilometres inside Chad and is protected by that country’s army, but it does not have much else to offer. Nine months ago, the only water available to the thousands of people who arrived with their livestock was a stagnant lake.

“We have nothing”

Ms. Dramane, who injured her hip when fleeing from militia forces, lives under a tarpaulin propped up by branches. Three of her seven children are with her and earn a small income clearing fields on local farms. “We arrived in March, and I would really like to move on to my home region of Salamat, in southern Chad, where my mother lives,” she says. “But it will be some time before we make enough money to leave this place.”

Raised in impoverished Salamat, Ms. Dramane moved to Darfur with her husband, in search of better prospects. Ten years ago, the couple then moved to the Central African Republic to escape ethnic fighting. Since March, having run from conflict again, she is back in her native Chad.

“We have literally nothing, not even a donkey,” she says. “Every time we leave a place, we lose everything.”

Ms. Dramane says her husband left her after the couple arrived in Tissi. “He left because of the hip,” she laments.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
Ms. Dramane and three of her children have now settled in Tissi, on the south-eastern tip of Chad. Around 50,000 people have fled to the area – some from the Central African Republic but most from Darfur, in nearby Sudan.

Her story is just one of many that make up the human fabric of Tissi, a place so far removed its own capital, N’Djamena, that the currency in use is Sudanese. Getting here the safe way – from within Chad – takes 11 hours driving across sandy scrubland. There is an irregular United Nations helicopter flight, and a Médecins Sans Frontières air ambulance occasionally flies in. The effort to support a mixture of refugees from neighbouring countries and returnees coming home – about 18,000 of whom are in a UNHCR refugee camp – is no simple task.

Challenges

“The big challenge is water,” says UNICEF health consultant Hormo Amboulmato. “We needed to secure a safe water supply quickly, or people would have had to continue walking westwards.” With ECHO funding, 20 boreholes were sunk, and Tissi has been equipped with a solar-powered water treatment plant.

Teams of health staff have also been engaged in a race to vaccinate children before an epidemic catches up with the human tide crossing into Chad from Darfur, where a yellow fever outbreak was recently reported. The same teams check infants for signs of malnutrition, provide advice on hygiene and inform mothers about the prevention of malaria and diarrhea.

The power of play is being used to soothe trauma in children who have been exposed to violence and conflict. At the village of Kélé, counsellor Hassan Saleh Hassan, 27, runs one of 10 child-friendly spaces, where games and singing are the order of the day. Balls, building bricks and skipping ropes are among the brightly coloured objects of fun he keeps in a large suitcase.

“About 80 children regularly attend,” he says. “From time to time, we ask questions. The child will say, ‘We saw people, corpses actually, people who had been thrown – many of them – into holes. And on the road when we fled, we saw corpses here and there.’ They do tell us if we ask questions. The reason for the games is simply to help them forget the things they have seen.”

ECHO is supplementing earlier spending on water provision with €400,000 of funding for education. Thomas Dehermann-Roy, who heads the ECHO office in Chad, says, “Nine thousand of the returnee and refugee children are to be given access to primary education. The initiative will not only offer immediate support to refugees and returnees, but it will be implemented in existing schools and villages, so it will be sustainable for the region.”

Ms. Dramane limps to a borehole which, luckily, has been sunk near her home. She would like to move on and eventually find a permanent home in a safe area. But such is the cycle of life in this region – a race for food against a backdrop of recurring conflict – that the best she can hope for is that Tissi will remain safe for the coming months.

*Name changed

 


 

 

UNICEF Photography: Refugees & displaced

 

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