Darfur Refugees in Eastern Chad: The Most Invisible Casualties of the Darfur Genocide

African/non-Arab refugees from violence in Darfur began to flee to eastern Chad well before the date conventionally used to mark the outbreak of large-scale violence in Darfur itself, February 2003—fourteen and a half years ago. The Massalit in particular were victims of brutal attacks by Khartoum-sanctioned militias in the 1990s, and they have suffered particularly severe and concentrated human destruction and displacement. This is true even within the ghastly context of Khartoum’s genocidal counter-insurgency in Darfur, beginning in earnest following the successful rebel attack on the El Fasher airbase in April 2003.

Hundreds of thousands of African/non-Arab Darfuris remain trapped as refugees in twelve main camps in eastern Chad, unable to return because of the massive insecurity that continues to prevail in most of Darfur—insecurity that will only increase with the severe reductions in the UN/African Union “hybrid” Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). On June 30, 2017 the UN Security Council renewed the mandate for UNAMID, but—at Khartoum’s behest—reduced the military presence in Darfur by 44 percent and the police presence by more than 30 percent.

Perhaps, then, it should not be surprising that Sudan Tribune today reports the following:

• Sudanese refugees say they want to settle in Chad | August 7, 2017 (KHARTOUM) | http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article63192

Over 500 Sudanese from West Darfur state who have recently moved into eastern Chad told the UN refugee agency they have no intention to return to their homeland. In an update on the refugee situation in Chad released on 7 August, the UNCHR Chad said some 112 families, 512 people have arrived the village of Katarfa in eastern Chad on Saturday 29th July 2017. The Sudanese refugees, “mainly women and children are from the Massalit ethnic group, told the UN aid workers they fled their village, Terbebe or Terbiba near the border with Chad, following a surge of violence after a clash between a Massalit farmer and a cattle herder.

In a report about the refugees in Chad released on 31 July, the UNHCR says there are 319,512 Sudanese refugees generally residing in 12 camps in the eastern part of the country since 2003.

Perhaps of note, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) “Factsheet” of May 2017 (https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/56878/) gives a figure of 317,219 Darfuri refugees—more than 2,000 fewer than the July 31, 2017 report cited by Sudan Tribune. And given the substance of the Sudan Tribune report, an increase in the number of Darfuri refugees is a distinct possibility.

Indeed, so low a priority have Darfuri refugees been in eastern Chad, that it seems important to note first of all how rare reporting is of any kind. And what reporting there is seems not to figure in the accounts rendered by UNHCR, which often ignore the intense resistance of these refugees to any thought of returning voluntarily to Darfur:

Refugees in eastern Chad refuse to return to Darfur | Radio Dabanga | November 1, 2015 | EASTERN CHAD | https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/refugees-in-eastern-chad-refuse-to-return-to-darfur

The Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad categorically refuse to join the voluntary repatriation programme in the current insecure climate. The refugees set the restoration of the rule of law, disarmament of the militias, prosecution of the perpetrators of war crimes, and compensation, as conditions for their voluntary return. A delegation of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and a representative of the Chadian government, held a meeting with refugee leaders in the Djabal camp on Tuesday concerning the voluntary repatriation programme, as agreed between the UNHCR and the Sudanese and Chadian authorities in September. “They told us that a Sudanese delegation will visit the camps in November to prepare for the return of the refugees,” El Zein Mohamed Ahmed, Radio Dabanga correspondent in eastern Chad reported.

“The refugee elders and sheikhs asserted their categorical rejection of the voluntary repatriation programme while the situation in most parts of Darfur is still extremely unsafe and insecure,” he said. “They told them the refugees will not welcome any delegation from the Khartoum regime, which is the main cause of their suffering.”

A similar account could be found in a report from the independent UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) several years earlier:

Darfur’s Forgotten Refugees | IRIN | GOZ BEIDA, 10 August 2012

Ten years after fleeing violence in the Sudanese region of Darfur, Abdulla Juma Abubakr has no intention of returning home. After leaving the West Darfur town of El-Geneina in 2002, he first spent two years in a border camp inside Sudan, before moving on to Djabal, a refugee camp in eastern Chad’s Goz-Beida region. “From what I saw when we left, the way people were killed, mosques burnt… I can’t imagine going back,” Abubakr, a refugee leader at the camp, told IRIN. “I know that other people are going back but I can’t go back. I still have some family members in Darfur but I can’t be sure of my security if I return.”

Many of the camp’s 18,000 refugees, most of them from Darfur, are also reluctant to return home. “The Darfur refugees have put many conditions towards return – security and recovery of property and land and other things,” Aminata Gueye, the representative of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Chad, told IRIN.

“We were working on a tripartite mechanism with respect to possible repatriation, but as long as the situation is not good they will not return. We were hoping in 2013 to facilitate the returns of some refugees, mainly the Masaliet.” The Masaliet are a non-Arab ethnic group found in parts of Sudan and Chad.

Reporting on Darfuri refugees has been made more difficult by the fact that UNHCR has not regularly provided a current total for refugees, and the number used in what reporting there is on the refugee crisis has offered very substantially varying figures. A timeline of figures as reported by UNHCR and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs over the past decade appears here as APPENDIX A; it is quite possible that the present figure is considerably higher than UNHCR indicates because of significant limitations in survey tools. Disgracefully in Darfur itself, UN OCHA has been deeply irresponsible in its promulgation of figures for displacement since the tenure of Georg Charpentier (UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Darfur, 2009 – 2011). The problems have persisted: see “Displacement in Sudan and Darfur: UN figures continue to be careless, corrupt, or inadequate” | May 22, 2017 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-23o.

I have myself written regularly about the refugee situation in eastern Chad for more than a decade, trying to highlight the plight of these invisible people. Exactly one year ago I attempted ask about the number of refugees in Chad, given the challenges posed by UNHCR refusals to be consistently forthcoming:

“How Many Refugees in Chad?” | (August 9, 2016 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Vw/)

In late April of this year [2016] I published “Invisible, Forgotten, and Suffering: Darfuri Refugees in Eastern Chad,” (Sudan Tribune, April 28, 2016 | http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article58797/). The piece drew a sharply critical response from UN High Commission for Refugee officials in Chad, although they addressed few of the issues I raised in my piece. One issue, however, was clarified in the email exchange between me and these UNHCR officials (emails: April 29 – April 30, 2016): the number of Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad as of the time, according to UNHCR, was 302,000—well below the figure of 380,000 that UNHCR had promulgated just a year earlier (see below).

[This analysis was a follow-up to: “Darfuri Refugees in Eastern Chad: Among the world’s most forgotten people” (18 July 2014 | http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article587/]

Notably, neither UNHCR figure—302,000 or 380,000—corresponds with the present figure of “319,512.” If we assume that “302,000” was the correct figure in April 2016, this means that the Darfur refugee population in Darfur has increased by more than 17,000—a much greater figure than the recent increase of “500 people” reported by Sudan Tribune.

This sort of large fluctuation has unfortunately been the norm for UNHCR, a significant problem, given the ways in which humanitarian resources are allocated on the basis of the size of an affected population. Reports of failures to deliver food, of food shortages, lack of sheltering material, lack of medical care (and especially treatment for girls and women who have been victims of sexual violence), educational shortcomings—all have been constants, though almost never reported except by Radio Dabanga and Sudan Tribune. The report from IRIN in 2012 is a notable exception.

Genocide in Darfur Spreads to Eastern Chad

In 2005 – 2006 the ethnically-targeted violence in Darfur began to spill into eastern Chad in a way that posed serious threats to the refugee population—a development chronicled by Human Rights Watch and others:

“Darfur Bleeds: Recent Cross-Border Violence in Chad” | February 21, 2006 | http://pantheon.hrw.org/legacy/backgrounder/africa/chad0206/


The crisis in Darfur, Sudan, which has been trickling into Chad for the better part of three years, is now bleeding freely across the border. A counterinsurgency carried out by the Sudanese government and its militias against rebel groups in Darfur, characterized by war crimes and “ethnic cleansing,” has forcibly displaced almost two million civilians in Darfur and another 220,000 people who have fled across the border into Chad. The same ethnic “Janjaweed” militias that have committed systematic abuses in Darfur have staged cross-border raids into Chad, attacking Darfurian refugees and Chadian villagers alike, seizing their livestock and killing those who resist.

The government of Sudan is actively exporting the Darfur crisis to its neighbor by providing material support to Janjaweed militias and by failing to disarm or control them, by backing Chadian rebel groups that it allows to operate from bases in Darfur, and by deploying its own armed forces across the border into Chad.

Other publications from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International followed:

Chad/Sudan: Sowing the Seeds of Darfur: Ethnic Targeting in Chad by Janjawid Militias from Sudan | Amnesty International, 27 June 2006, Index number: AFR 20/006/2006 | https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr20/006/2006/en/

The Janjawid have now extended their activities Sudan’s Darfur region into eastern Chad. There, they have targeted a diverse range of ethnic groups who identify themselves and are identified by others as “African” rather than “Arab.” The Janjawid have stolen the cattle that are their main source of wealth, driven them from their homes and villages, and killed or dispersed their inhabitants. Urgent action is required by the UN, the African Union (AU) and particularly the two governments involved if this new, emerging crisis is to be forestalled in eastern Chad.

“Violence beyond borders: The human rights crisis in eastern Chad” | Human Rights Watch, 22 June 2006 | http://reliefweb.int/report/chad/violence-beyond-borders-human-rights-crisis-eastern-chad

I published my own assessment in the Boston Globe on April 26, 2006 (“The Looming Chaos in Chad”), assessing the political impact of Chadian rebel movements and the response of Chad’s brutally expedient president, Idriss Déby


A much more recent and very moving account comes Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada:

“‘It always feels like something is about to explode’: Tensions along the Chad Darfur border,” by Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, November 19, 2013)

But with the defeat of Chadian rebels and the diminishment of cross-border genocidal violence by Khartoum’s militias, Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad became increasingly invisible. Indeed, In would argue would argue that they are the most invisible of the surviving victims of the Darfur genocide, even as mortality has at times been significant in some of the refugee camps.

Violence and Humanitarian Conditions for Darfuri Refugees in Eastern Chad

There is far too little reporting on the conditions for the hundreds of thousands of Darfuri refugees in Chad. For much of 2015 I reported, in a series of twenty-eight updates (http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Or/), based on Radio Dabanga, dispatches on conditions in both Darfur and eastern Chad. Previous dispatches from Radio Dabanga were also included as appropriate, especially for Chad. Herewith some examples, nowhere to be found in reporting by UNHCR or UN OCHA (Note: camp populations in eastern Chad are primarily women and children—well over 60 percent of the total population):

• Serious water shortage in eastern Chad camp; refugees facing threat of diseases as they use contaminated water from nearby valleys | (Radio Dabanga [Brejean, also Bredjing], August 9, 2012)

Nearly 45,000 Sudanese [Darfuri] refugees from the Brejean camp (eastern Chad) are suffering from acute water shortage after the water pump’s generator broke down, residents complained on Tuesday. This has resulted in refugees traveling to nearby valleys in search of water for drinking and domestic purposes. The water from the valleys is, however, not suitable for consumption. Refugees in the camp told Radio Dabanga that the water was contaminated by both human and animal waste and carcasses leading to the spread of waterborne diseases, especially among children.

• Food shortage in eastern Chad camp | (Radio Dabanga [Eastern Chad], August 22, 2012)

537 Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad’s Gaga camp have not received their food rations since last June, a sheikh in the camp told Radio Dabanga on Monday. Sheikh Mohammed Ismail said, “The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has asked the veteran refugees in the camp to share their food rations with the new arrivals until August, which should have been the next date for replenishing the food stocks.” However, the refugees were surprised when the UNHCR asked them to prolong that initiative until October. The decision was therefore vehemently rejected by the refugees. Sheikh Mohammed Ismail added, “The new arrivals were registered as refugees and must receive food on showing their food ration cards.”

• Shortages in Chad camps for Darfuri refugees | (Radio Dabanga. Eastern Chad [Farchana/Treguine camps], 26 November 26, 2013)

The Farchana refugee camp in eastern Chad is suffering from a severe shortage of medicines and medical staff. Mohamed Dafallah, the head of the camp, told Radio Dabanga that people being ill have to queue from the early morning until the evening to see the doctor at the camp health centre. “There is only one doctor for the population of the camp totalling more than 26,000 refugees. The suffering of the patients extends beyond seeing a doctor because they often do not get the medication prescribed as their conditions do not allow them to buy it at the pharmacy due to the high medicine prices.”

Treguine refugee camp

The Sudanese refugees of the Treguine camp in eastern Chad have renewed their demands to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the humanitarian organisations working in the field of water to provide them with potable water. Ali Yagoub, the head of the camp, told Radio Dabanga that until now they have been getting their water supply from traditional wells, due to the collapse of the only water well in the camp a year ago. The water from the traditional wells is unsafe for drinking.

Nothing is Changing

The problems reported earlier in the now long history of Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad are all too characteristic, despite up-beat notes from various UN organizations. The consensus among those in the humanitarian community is that in many ways conditions are deteriorating; and while stable compared with Darfur, violence in eastern Chad is a chronic problem for the refugees, if not on the same scale as was reported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in 2005, 2006. The desperate privation experienced by Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad continues to this day; herewith a further but still only partial culling of articles from Radio Dabanga (more dispatches appear in APPENDIX B). The lack of remotely adequate food supplies is only the most conspicuous issues facing Darfur refugees:

• Homes devoured by flames in Darfur, eastern Chad | February 1, 2017 | ASSALAYA / GIREIDA / GOZ AMER | https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/homes-devoured-by-flames-in-darfur-eastern-chad

On Saturday, four Darfuri families in Goz Amer refugee camp in eastern Chad lost their houses because of a fire. El Zein Mohamed, correspondent for Radio Dabanga in eastern Chad reported that the cause of the fire is still unknown.

[Camp materials are notoriously flimsy and subject to rapid degradation in the harsh climate of eastern Chad; arson is also a factor in many camp fires–ER]

In 2006, the UN refugee agency UNHCR moved more than 3,000 Chadian refugees from the Chad-Sudan border to two new refugee camps, Um Shalaya and Mukjar, in what was then West Darfur. In December 2013, Radio Dabanga reported that the 8,000 Chadian refugees in Um Shalaya refused to return to Chad, citing the lack of security, stability, services, and development as reasons. Their status as refugees in Sudan would officially end in January 2014.

• Darfuri refugees in Chad concerned about food rations, striking teachers | Radio Dabanga | November 17, 2016 | DJABAL REFUGEE CAMP

| https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/darfuri-refugees-in-chad-concerned-about-food-rations-striking-teachers

The residents of the Djabal refugee camp in eastern Chad have voiced concern about new UN World Food Programme (WPF) food distribution plans. The camp’s school teachers embarked on a strike on Sunday, in protest against the delayed payment of their salaries.

In a meeting with WFP representatives on Wednesday morning, camp leaders rejected the proposal of the UN food agency to received their food rations through coupons, with which they will be able to purchase food directly from traders in the area. “The WFP representatives said that it has become difficult to import food,” Radio Dabanga’s correspondent in eastern Chad reported.

The camp elders based their rejection on the inability of merchants to cover the food needs of the 27,000 Djabal camp refugees. “The lorries transporting basic goods face many challenges in reaching the camp and its neighbouring towns during the rainy season.”

The correspondent added that the school teachers in the refugee camp embarked on a strike on Sunday, in protest against the delayed payment of their salaries. “They have not received their salary of October so far,” he explained.” The students’ parents have expressed their concerns about their children’s classes, and urged the organisation responsible for education in the camp to pay the teachers as soon as possible.

The loss of educational opportunities for countless Darfuri refugees and displaced children has received far too little attention–particularly given the length of time the Darfur genocide has raged–ER]

• 35,000 Sudanese refugees in Chad in dire need | Radio Dabanga | May 4, 2016 | GOZ AMER CAMP | https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/35-000-sudanese-refugees-in-chad-in-dire-need

The Sudanese refugees in Goz Amer camp in eastern Chad complain of a severe shortage of humanitarian aid, health services, and food. Speaking to Radio Dabanga on Tuesday, a number of refugees from the camp said that the health facilities of the camp, which accommodates more than 35,000 refugees, lack medicines and medical professionals to perform routine check-ups. They say that the refugees are forced to purchase medicines external pharmacies for high prices. They also complain that the monthly food rations have decreased, and of a shortage of drinking water.


In September 2015, the Sudanese Commissioner for Refugees’ Affairs, Hamad El Jezouli, announced the signing of a tripartite agreement between the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), Sudan, and Chad to repatriate 300,000 Sudanese refugees and some 8,500 Chadian refugees to their respective countries within the framework of the voluntary repatriation programme.

However, the leaders of the refugees reject the repatriation programme. “The implementation of a repatriation programme requires a secure situation, based on a comprehensive peace agreement for the entire Sudan, as well as the provision of adequate services and infrastructure,” a refugee leader told Radio Dabanga following the announcement. “Further, the new settlers who have taken over our lands are to be evacuated and the refugees have to be compensated, individually and collectively.”

• Fire, hospital fees affect Darfuri refugees | February 28, 2016 | EASTERN CHAD CAMPS | https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/fire-hospital-fees-affect-darfuri-refugees

Donors from the USA have visited one of the refugee camps in eastern Chad, where Sudanese refugees report they have to pay a fee in the health centre to receive treatment.

A large fire in another camp in eastern Chad has destroyed 30 homes, including food and belongings of the camp residents on Friday. A Radio Dabanga correspondent Dabanga reported that the now homeless refugees in Goz Amer camp have little food and no shelter. They asked the humanitarian organisations that are active in the area to help them.

Hospitals fees

Sudanese refugees in Jebel camp have complained about the fees for hospital patients that have been imposed by the Chadian authorities, in addition to the soaring prices of medicines in pharmacies. The same correspondent said that the fee amounts to 40 Chadian Riyals, the equivalent of SDG5, on patients in health centres. “The centre runs short of medicines, prompting patients to buy drugs from pharmacies in Goz Beida, which is two kilometres away from Jebel. The majority of refugees cannot afford these medicines, however.”

US visit

A delegation of donors from the USA visited Jebel camp to assess the humanitarian situation last week. “The Sudanese refugees explained to the delegates that the humanitarian situation in the camp is disastrous because the agricultural season largely failed last year,” the correspondent explained. They complained that the World Food Programme om the camp has classified the refugees into four categories for receiving aid. “This classification has kept the majority of refugees out from the monthly support.” The refugees requested the reconsideration of the classification and the provision of more food in the camp. In the past, refugees have complained about the late or suspended distribution of food by aid agencies. According to the UNHCR in 2015, more than 360,000 Sudanese live in at least 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.

A week ago, an Independent Member of Parliament of Karnoi, Um Baru and El Tina localities, in North Darfur, reported the unprecedented large influx of more than 27,000 Darfuri refugees from Chad to Um Baru since 16 February. About 24,000 Sudanese already returned in December last year, mainly because of the Chadian government ultimatum for Sudanese refugees to either integrate into the camps or to return to Sudan. Aid agencies’ food ration cuts have affected daily life in the eastern Chadian camps and services are limited. Measures by the Chadian government push the refugees to become more self-sufficient, integrate in Chad, or return to Darfur.