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Concern working in ChadConcern working in ChadConcern working in Chad

The desperate struggle of providing aid in crisis-hit Chad

The desperate struggle of providing aid in crisis-hit Chad
Story20 July 2023

A father shot dead in front of his family as they tried to escape a new wave of violence in their country. A mother desperate to hear if her husband and four children are alive after they got separated fleeing armed groups who opened fire on them.

These are just some of the harrowing stories I heard from women I spoke to at a sprawling refugee camp in Chad, along the border with Sudan.

Major conflict in Sudan has forced over 400,000 people to flee their country since mid-April, with over half of them going to Chad.

There are about 30,000 Sudanese refugees in the camp in Sila province with more arriving each day. It is a desperate situation as the Chad authorities, the UN and aid organisations try to provide basic needs to families in need of lifesaving support.

Most of them are women and children, who have lost loved ones as they fled. The camp is a sea of small shelters made of sticks. Half of them are covered with plastic sheeting and the rest with pieces of cloth or nothing at all.

The conditions are very difficult, but the people are resilient. There are children everywhere and most find ways to have some fun amid the hardship. I saw some with toy figures they made for themselves out of used plastic bottles and anything else they could find.

The refugees came to the camp for a semblance of safety, but they are actually on very dangerous ground.

They fear that the conflict will spill over the border into the camp, but the immediate danger is that they are on land that will soon be flooded due to monsoon-like rains, so they have to move again.

Refugee camp in Chad
This camp is 2km from the Sudan-Chad border. Photo: Reka Sztopa / Concern Worldwide.

Families are being relocated to a site a further 30km inland. The rains have already begun and the river basins are filling up so a lot of these areas will be blocked off and inaccessible in the coming weeks.

Woken by the sounds of screaming

More permanent shelters are being set up and Concern Worldwide is among the organisations who will continue to provide them with basic items they will need to survive.

The race is on to ensure everyone is moved to safer ground. Logistically, it is a big challenge to even find enough transport to move this vast number of people.

Those I met were very traumatised due to the conditions they had to flee and also the levels of violence they witnessed before they crossed the border. A 55-year-old mother told me she has eight children, but that only four of them made it to the camp. Her husband was also still in Sudan.

She told me they were woken up at about 1am to the sounds of screaming and that armed men had started a blaze near their home. They fled but lost each other in the chaos. She can now only hope that they survived and that maybe they are in one of the several other camps along the border.

Most people in the camp arrived with absolutely nothing. Some of the women I spoke to said that even the veil they were wearing was given to them by women on the Chad side and some also received small jerry cans, so there is great solidarity. Women in the camp are also supporting each other in any way they can.

A female focus group in Chad
Concern Regional Director for West Africa and Sahel Reka Sztopa speaks to a focus group of women at a Chad refugee camp. Photo: Concern Worldwide.

My colleagues there are helping to reduce hunger, disease and malnutrition by running a mobile health and nutrition clinic where camp residents can be tested and get lifesaving medical treatment. This includes services for pregnant women. About five children are born each day in the camp.

We are also providing families with essential household items like torches, jerry cans for water, cooking pots and utensils, sleeping mats, blankets, mosquito nets as well as soap, buckets and  reusable sanitary pads and other important needs.

Food and clean water is provided in the camps. However, there is not a huge amount of funding available for organisations to keep up this large-scale emergency response. There are a lot of crises around the world and so it's very difficult to get sufficient funding to respond to the needs of refugees arriving in Chad, which was already an area under pressure with few basic services.

16 years later, we're back where we were

Chad has one of the highest levels of hunger in the world with more than half of its population of 15.5 million people living in extreme poverty.

This is largely due ongoing conflicts in neighbouring countries, economic challenges, pressure on basic services and the effects of climate change with more frequent floods, droughts and agricultural land turning into desert.

Chad is ranked 190 out of 191 countries in the UN Human Development Index for 2021-22. The same index has Ireland near the top end in 8th place below Sweden.

Sixteen years ago, Concern began operations in Chad in response to refugees fleeing conflict in Sudan and now we are back in a similar situation. It is heart breaking that so many families have been torn apart by the ongoing conflict in the region, but we will continue to do what we can to help them rebuild their lives.

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