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UNICEF begins distributing emergency aid to Chadian refugees

© AP Photo/Delay
Chadian refugees cross back from Cameroon on the Chagoua bridge over the Shari river, towards N'Djamena, Chad.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, USA, 8 February 2008 – UNICEF has begun distributing emergency supplies to the thousands of Chadian refugees who have fled to Cameroon to escape violence in their own country.

Tens of thousands of doses of measles, meningitis and polio vaccines, as well as vitamin A supplements, have arrived in Kousseri, northern Cameroon. At the same time, a tanker has provided 48,000 litres of safe water to refugees who had spent several days with no food, water or shelter.

“UNICEF is the first to distribute water,” said UNICEF Communications Officer Cifora Monier, who is part of UNICEF’s Rapid Assessment Team that has been in the area for several days, setting priorities for aid to children and women.

© Reuters/Thomson
Goni, 9, shows burns sustained during a missile explosion inside his house in Chad's capital. He and his family have spent the past few days living in the open in Cameroon, where they fled after the attack.

‘The situation is tense’

About 100 civilians are reported to have died in battles over the weekend when rebels tried to take control of Chad's capital city, N'Djamena. The Chadian Government says it has regained control, having imposed a country-wide curfew. The authorities have asked refugees to return home, and several hundred reportedly have done so.

However, most of the refugees remain in Cameroon, frightened that the fighting will break out again because of rumours that the rebels have re-grouped outside N’Djamena.

Refugees are scattered around Kousseri and aid agencies are dividing them into groups so that aid can be distributed more effectively. Two temporary camps are being established outside of Kousseri, and some refugees are sheltered in churches and schools – but many are sleeping in the open air.

There have been a number of armed attacks in Kousseri in the past 24 hours, and several unexploded munitions have been found. “The situation is tense,” said UNICEF Representative in Cameroon Silvia Luciani, who estimated that there are 58,000 refugees in Kousseri and its immediate surroundings.

© Reuters/Braun
Refugees carry their belongings as they pour across the Ngueli bridge into Cameroon to flee fighting in N'Djamena.

Concern over conditions in camps

In addition to the aid already being provided, UNICEF has ordered blankets and school supplies for around 10,000 children, along with recreation kits and clothing. Families will be supplied with basic water kits, water purification tablets, soap, buckets and water bladders.

“It’s now an issue of setting up a base, finding out what the correct needs are and doing the distribution to those who need it most,” said UNICEF Regional Communications Advisor for West and Central Africa Martin Dawes. “This is the start of an emergency operation. Other situations are being assessed.”

One of those situations involves the 400,000 people living in refugee and displacement camps in eastern Chad because of the conflict in Darfur. The World Food Programme has given them a month’s supply of food.

“We have some staff there monitoring,” said Mr. Dawes, “but we’re very concerned about these camps becoming unstable because of a lack of water or because of disease.”




6 February 2008:
UNICEF Representative in Cameroon Silvia Luciani describes the situation in Kousseri, where some 58,000 refugees from Chad are now living.
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5 February 2008:
UNICEF Regional Communications Advisor for West and Central Africa Martin Dawes describes what UNICEF is doing to help the tens of thousands of refugees flooding out of Chad.
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