Dire conditions, uncertain future for Sudanese refugees in Chad

Thousands of people have fled fighting and crossed into Chad, but aid agencies warn they do not have enough food, shelter or other supplies for them.

Koufroun, Chad – Men, women and children sit in clusters on the dusty ground as others form queues behind two lines of rope separating them from aid distribution points.

Many say they have not eaten in 24 hours.

People of all ages have crossed from Sudan to Koufroun, a small border village in Chad, to flee the fighting that erupted two weeks ago between the Sudanese army and a paramilitary force called the Rapid Support Forces.

The battles between their two commanders for control of Sudan have killed hundreds of people, wounded thousands and forced tens of thousands to flee to neighbouring countries.

In just under a week, more than 4,000 refugees have arrived in Koufroun, some with just the clothes on their backs.

“Three people were killed and nine injured in an ambush on our convoy when we tried to flee,” refugee Abubakr Adam said. “Two cars were destroyed.”

The United Nations estimates that more than a quarter of a million people will cross into Chad alone in the coming weeks and months if the fighting continues.

What awaits them are desperate conditions and an uncertain future.

“The situation is very dire,” said Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from the makeshift refugee camp in Koufroun. “People are exposed to the elements. There is little food, little shelter and a lot of confusion as to where people will go.”

In recent days, food has started reaching the Chad-Sudan border area, but aid agencies said they do not have enough to keep the thousands of people who have already crossed and the tens of thousands more expected to arrive from going hungry.

Refugees also told Al Jazeera that the aid given to them is not enough to last for a few days.

Most of them live in makeshift structures, sharing what few supplies they receive. Hundreds have yet to be registered and, therefore, cannot receive aid.

“Other refugees are well inside the bush, and they don’t even know the direction towards this camp to access it,” Idris said.

Donaig Le Du, UNICEF chief of communications for Chad told Al Jazeera from the small village of Koufroun that it is an “extremely challenging situation”.

“This is a very small village and it’s already outnumbered by refugees. There’s hardly even enough water for the local population here. We need to act fast to make sure that these people get access to water. It’s 45 degrees outside today,” Le Du said.

“Some of those people have been sitting under the trees for days and they need shelter.”

She added that UNICEF in Chad is going to need $1.5m to cover the next two to three months, but “we don’t have enough of those resources.

“It’s going to be a huge effort.”

Chadian authorities said the rising numbers of refugees are beginning to affect the local economy.

“Right now, the cost of food has gone up by 70 percent in our markets,” said Lieutenant Colonel Ali Mahamat Sebe, the prefect of Adre, the main town in the area.

“The government along with its partners are collaborating to ease the situation for our population.”

Source: Al Jazeera