Since 2003, at least 200,000 people by UN estimates have been killed in Sudan's Darfur region, and more than two million have been displaced. Unfortunately, 2006 brought the crisis to new depths as the ethnic violence continued and spread into neighboring Chad. The number of refugees and internally displaced has grown, heightening concerns about destabilization in Chad and the Central African Republic.
As of late November, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported there were 218,000 refugees from Darfur in 12 camps in eastern Chad, up from 200,000 refugees in 11 camps in late 2004. To date, the camps themselves have not been attacked. Their residents, especially women, often are assaulted when they leave the camps to forage or search for firewood.
In addition, UNHCR reports that more than 90,000 people have been internally displaced in eastern Chad itself, at least 15,000 of them since the beginning of November. Sudanese militias attacked Chadians living near the border earlier this year, forcing some to flee to Darfur, but now non-Arab Chadians as far as 60 miles from the border reportedly have been attacked by Chadian Arabs. The Chadian government believes Sudan has encouraged interethnic conflict in eastern Chad and supported the Chadian rebellion.
The Sudanese government has long been accused of arming local militias called Janjaweed to attack villages belonging primarily to the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massalit tribes, who the government suspects of supporting rebel groups. Khartoum also bombed civilians in northwestern Darfur and Chad this fall, killing and injuring hundreds, according to a Human Rights Watch alert published in November.
There are only 7,000 African Union peacekeepers in Sudan to separate the combatants. The Sudanese government initially refused to allow UN peacekeepers into the country despite a UN Security Council Resolution calling for such a deployment. However, in November, President Omar al-Bashir agreed to allow a mixed UN-African Union force of up to 20,000 troops, though Khartoum has made it clear that UN troops will only be allowed to assist the African force.
The bottom line for Sudanese refugees and internally displaced Chadians: they will not likely be going home anytime soon.
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