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UN Rushes Aid For Many Thousands Chad Refugees

UN rushes aid for tens of thousands of Chadian refugees in Cameroon

8 February 2008 - United Nations agencies and their partners are rushing emergency food, medicine and other relief items to assist some 30,000 people who have fled the fighting in Chad and are seeking refuge in neighbouring Cameroon.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that after fighting erupted in the capital, N'Djamena, last Saturday between rebel forces and the army, 20,000 to 30,000 Chadians streamed over the Chari River to Kousseri, a remote town in north-eastern Cameroon.

According to UNHCR, some Chadians started trickling back home Wednesday morning after an uneasy calm returned to N'Djamena. Some were returning just for the day and planning to go back to Cameroon overnight, while others have returned to their homes in the Chadian capital but left their families behind in Kousseri, which is more than 1,500 kilometres from Cameroon's capital, Yaoundé.

"Our teams in Kousseri have observed that there have been a lot of back-and-forth movements in the past two days, but it is too early to say if people are going back to their homes in Chad permanently," UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told reporters in Geneva.

The agency has started an emergency airlift to bring aid to the refugees in Cameroon. By Sunday, two flights carrying 90 tonnes of supplies, including plastic sheeting, blankets, jerry cans and cooking sets, will have arrived in Kousseri.

The UN World Food Programme is transferring food, including rice, vegetables and oil, from its stocks in the Cameroonian town of Maroua to Kousseri. The agency will also be transporting by plane high-energy biscuits from Accra in Ghana to Kousseri.

Concerned about the risk of epidemics, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has ordered 25,000 doses of both meningitis and measles vaccines.

UN agencies and their partners are preparing to respond to an influx of up to 50,000 people from Chad into Cameroon.

"The situation is difficult, and not yet under control. We are concerned about the fate of the most vulnerable," said Sophie de Caen, UN Resident Coordinator for Cameroon. "However, food, non-food items and medical supplies have already been ordered, and the first shipments have already reached the refugees."

Meanwhile, UNHCR reports that the situation in N'Djamena was calm today but the streets remained empty and very few shops were open. "UNHCR local staff who remained in N'Djamena are starting to collect UNHCR tents which were looted from our warehouse and later abandoned by looters in the streets," said Ms. Pagonis, adding that the agency's office in the capital was not touched.

In eastern Chad, UNHCR and its partners are continuing to provide protection and assistance to 240,000 Sudanese refugees in 12 camps and 180,000 internally displaced Chadians.

ENDS

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