Cablegate: Status of Oure Cassoni Refugee Camp -- Move Seems

DE RUEHNJ #0447/01 2890930
R 160930Z OCT 09 ZDK




E.O. 12958: N/A


NDJAMENA 00000447 001.4 OF 004


1. (SBU) The refugee camp in northeastern Chad on the
Chad-Sudan border known as Oure Cassoni appears slated to be
moved away from the border. The GoC announced on 14
September that the camp had to move (reported Ref A), and has
designated a new site for its location. The United Nations
High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has not yet declared the
proposed site to be viable for human habitation. Whether it
does will depend on multiple factors, but the critical one is
water availability from a sustainable hydrological formation
sufficient to provide at least 15 liters per day per person
for some 28,000 people in a harsh desert environment. Oure
Cassoni's location only 5 kms from the border has been
problematic since the camp's establishment in 2005. The
site is highly politicized and militarized, and has long
provided a rear base for Sudanese rebels. It is not at all
certain that moving it to the location selected by the GoC
will do much to improve the situation, although MINURCAT SRSG
Victor Angelo has insisted that UN agencies will do what they
can to ensure that a move does not exacerbate existing
problems or provoke new ones. There is considerable
speculation among humanitarians as to the motivations for
making tens of thousands of people destroy what little they
have built for themselves, in order to move 45 kms and start
all over again. END SUMMARY.


2. (SBU) Oure Cassoni camp was originally established as a
temporary transit camp for refugees, predominantly of the
Zaghawa ethnic group, fleeing conflict in Darfur in 2004-05.
Its location only 5 kms from the Chad-Sudan border was
instantly problematic: UNHCR norms are to push for camp
locations at least 50 kms from borders to avoid camps
becoming militarized, acting as rear bases for armed groups,
and providing a source for recruits into the conflict on the
other side of the border. The transit camp filled rapidly,
in a desert area of extreme climactic harshness, leading
humanitarian organizations to rush to provide necessary life
support systems that exceeded what would likely have
developed in the location in other circumstances. The small
settlement of some hundreds of inhabitants at Bahai, 25 kms
south of the camp, was quickly dwarfed by the arrival of tens
of thousands of refugees in the camp. The ethnic homogeneity
of the camp population - virtually 100% from the Zaghawa
group that lives in the area on both sides of the border -
and the relationships between camp residents and members of
the armed group Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) meant
that very quickly the camp became everything the humanitarian
community generally seeks to avoid - politicized,
militarized, and a place of recruitment, including of child


3. (SBU) UNHCR has sought the camp's relocation from the
early days of its existence. At each suggestion that it
move, the residents made clear that they had no intention of
cooperating with such plans. The longer the move was
resisted, the more camp structures and services were
established to ensure the survival of the refugees - health
clinics for each of the three camp blocs, a hospital at Bahai
to take referrals of illnesses and injuries too serious for
the clinics, a system of referral and transport to the
surgical hospital in Iriba, primary school systems, food and
non-food item distributions, and most critically a relatively
complex water pumping and treatment plant supplying large
volumes of potable water. State/PRM is currently managing
funding for some two-thirds of all camp costs, through the
USG contribution to UNHCR and annual cooperative agreements
with the NGO International Rescue Committee (IRC) - over $3

NDJAMENA 00000447 002.5 OF 004

million per year.

4. (SBU) Residents began to construct more durable shelters
as the original tents and plastic sheeting structures wore
out. Residents opposed more and more strenuously the
repeated attempts to identify a new site far from the border
to relocate the camp as it became more and more entrenched at
the Oure Cassoni site. Most importantly, although the GoC
offered a number of suggestions for where the camp should
move, UNHCR found each of them untenable: there was no water
to sustain the large camp population. At no time did the GoC
throw its weight and authority behind a move; at no time did
the residents or the JEM fighters believe that they would be
pressured to move by anyone other than the humanitarian


5. (SBU) The GoC on 14 September convoked UNHCR, MINURCAT,
and a group of key humanitarian organization representatives
to announce to them that the Oure Cassoni camp must be
relocated without further delay, to an area around the
settlement of Bir Douan. The area is just barely 45 kms west
from Bahai and Oure Cassoni. UNHCR has expressed resentment
at the implication that they had somehow not been
sufficiently enthusiastic in the past when suggestions for
moving the camp had been made, and callsattention to the
refusals of camp residents to coperate while the GoC
presented both untenable rlocation sites, while not making
it clear to cam rsidents that they must distance themselves
frm the border. Longtime observers note that in factUNHCR
never seemed to press the issue hard enoug, and suggest that
if indeed best practices militate for not creating camps
within 50 km of the border, UNHCR both failed to adhere to
this guideline, and should have exerted a lot more pressure
subsequently to get it moved.


6. (SBU) RefCoord joined UNHCR, United Nations Children's
Fund (UNICEF), and the World Food Program's (WFP)
representatives, accompanied by MINURCAT'S UN POL Chief of
Police and General Adoum of the GoC's "CONAFIT" (National
Coordination for the Support of the International Force in
Eastern Chad) on 09 October for a site visit to Bir Douan.
IO and NGO representatives working in Oure Cassoni met the
team at the site and briefed on its viability. Water is, as
always, the critical factor. Bir Douan (geocoords:
15.501160, 022.433783 as determined by RefCoord on a
hand-held satellite phone), population 405 souls according to
the settlement's elders, accesses water through deep -
sometimes tens of meters - hand-dug catchments in dried
stream beds, as well as from two deep boreholes served by
hand pumps. The boreholes are 120 ms deep, roughly 0.5 kms
apart, with a static water depth of 15 ms. Water quality is
good, according to NGO hydrologists.

7. (SBU) Water clearly exists, but significant questions

-- Do the existing boreholes access a water pocket (non
refilling) or an aquifer (potentially a sustainable source
for tens of thousands of camp dwellers)?
-- Can boreholes access water supplies in the areas where the
camp blocs can be physically located?
-- If yes, what is the potential output capacity of what
would be a system of new boreholes in the areas considered
for the three camp blocs?

8. (SBU) UNHCR has committed to answering these questions by
Friday, 16 October. The agency believes that if the answers
are not favorable to relocating the camp to Bir Douan, the
GoC will find another area for the move: it is now
conventional wisdom that the GoC has decided that Oure
Cassoni must move, no matter what.


NDJAMENA 00000447 003.4 OF 004


9. (SBU) RefCoord's discussions with NGO and IO staff
working in Oure Cassoni indicate that camp resident
opposition to relocation is weaker than at previous times
when the subject has arisen. There appears to be a certain
resignation to the move, despite strong discomfort expressed
particularly among women with the prospect of up-rooting,
given the expectation that they will leave the durable
shelters they have built over the years for more months under
tents and plastic sheeting, and more hard labor constructing
new shelters.

10. (SBU) IO and NGO staff report that camp residents react
in different manners depending upon the group context in
which questions on the move are posed. Camp leaders in
particular express strong resistance to the move when in the
company of their constituencies, but in private sometimes
state that they are in favor of the move and will work to
convince constituencies to cooperate. IO and NGO staff have
noted this behavior especially in discussions with camp
leaders believed to be closely allied to the JEM. In
general, it appears that residents are quite clear that for
the first time, the GoC has determined to push ahead with the
move; they state that they expect that the GoC will
eventually take action to destroy the Oure Cassoni camp
infrastructure, making a move essentially non-voluntary on
their part if they intend to continue to enjoy the status of
refugee in Chad.


11. (SBU) Much speculation has circulated among the IO and
NGO community as to why, this time, the GoC has put its
weight and political prestige behind the relocation of this
camp. The GoC has stated (Ref B and previous) that its goals
include moving the JEM from the immediate border area, as a
signal to Khartoum that the GoC is acting in good faith to
hinder JEM operations in Sudan. Still, the Bir Douan
relocation site does not meet best practices in terms of
distance from a border to provide for a buffer from
militarization of the camp; IO and NGO staff report that it
is a relatively easy one-hour drive from Bir Douan to the
border, insufficient to impose much operational hardship on
the JEM with their machinegun-mounted "technical" 4X4
pick-ups. IO and NGO staff note that, in any case, the Oure
Cassoni population is seen to be already heavily politicized
and militarized, so moving the camp now would not address
these problems.

12. (SBU) SRSG Victor Angelo, in his September briefing to
the diplomatic corps, answered questions about the
possibility that moving the camp as proposed by the GoC would
in fact play into the hands of the JEM, given that Bir Douan
is a short 20 kms from Am Jarras, a suspected JEM base and
President Idriss Deby Itno's home town. Angelo asserted that
the UN would do what it could to make sure than any move of
the Oure Cassoni camp did not have unintended consequences,
particularly with respect to JEM strength. But it remains
the case that Bir Douan would offer good cell phone coverage
from the towers of Am Jarras, the only town of significant
size for many kilometers around. Indeed, CONAFIT's General
Adoum has repeatedly drawn attention to this fact, telling
RefCoord, IOs and NGOs that there would be no possible
logistical or security problems associated with the move,
because the President himself had insisted on it, as well as
on the Bir Douan location.

13. (SBU) Thus international humanitarians and others also
speculate that the Bir Douan location has been chosen to
maximize the economic benefits that would accrue to the
populations living in close proximity to the camp, which
include Deby relatives. (NOTE: The President spent
considerable time "on family business" in the vicinity of Am
Jarras at the end of Ramadan last month, during which he
reportedly "resolved disputes" and "arranged prizes" among
members of his tribe. END NOTE.) The WFP representative
reports that the GoC has been in regular contact with him and

NDJAMENA 00000447 004.4 OF 004

his predecessor, seeking to convince him to construct a major
logistics and freight transit center in Am Jarras, in order
to re-direct humanitarian food deliveries away from the
southern route from Douala through Cameroon, and toward the
Benghazi, Libya route into northeastern Chad and passing
through Am Jarras. The WFP representative states that the
GoC believes large convoys should come into Chad on Libyan
trucks, which would transfer cargos to Chadian carriers at
the new logistics center for onward delivery to refugee and
IDP camps throughout the east.

14. (SBU) IO and NGO staffs residing in Bahai and working in
Oure Cassoni state that they have also been approached about
moving their offices and resdences to Am Jarras in order to
serve the new cap location at Bir Douan. Staffs note that
whilerelocation of offices is not strictly necessary fo
effective access to the Bir Douan location, and ould
certainly impose significant expenses on thir organizations,
moving to Am Jarras would givetheir operations somewhat
better infrastructure, and provide for a slightly shorter
drive to access the camp.


15. (SBU) UNHCR posits the following tentative sequence of
events, should the Bir Douan site be determined to be viable:

-- Multi-sectoral studies (water, sanitation, agriculture,
security, telecoms) - Present through mid-October --
Senstization of camp residents - Present through end-December
-- Boreholes and water point development - mid-October
through mid-December -- Site Planning - beginning November -
end-December -- Site development - Beginning November -
end-December -- MOVE - mid-December until complete
(approximately 1,000 persons per day, for roughly 28,000

UNHCR's current cost estimate for the move: $ 9.4 million,
although some ongoing contracts for services in Oure Cassoni
can be transferred to the new site, and non-food items in
stock would likely reduce the need for entirely new funds.


16. (SBU) No one but the GoC appears wedded to the Bir
Douan relocation site at present, although the GoC's desire
to move the camp here and not somewhere else may in the end
prevail should the site prove viable for life support. The
diplomatic community is generally supportive of a move that
would achieve the objective of disrupting JEM operations,
although far from persuaded that Bir Douan is the right site
for that. As noted, refugees themselves have strong views,
but these do not appear to have entered into the political
calculus of anyone planning the camp move.

© Scoop Media

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