Fleeing CAR, Chadians struggle to rebuild their lives in their home country
Thirty-nine-year-old Aziza Galmi knows little about Chad, her country of citizenship. Her parents migrated to the Central African Republic decades ago, where she was born, and where used to call the capital, Bangui, her home. But now, with a violent conflict raging since December, she and tens of thousands of ethnic Chadians are being forced to return to a country that many of them have never known.
"In Bangui, we lived so peacefully with Central Africans, we had no problems and we used to live as one family," Galmi says. "Then all the problems started." After witnessing her husband's murder – the result of growing religious and ethnic violence – Galmi fled to the airport with three young daughters in tow. "We were terrified," she says. "I lost everything and I saw people die with my husband. I even had to leave one of my children behind."
Galmi is one of 100,000 people – mostly women and children – who have fled the Central African Republic to Chad. Across several locations, many are living day-to-day in transit camps. They now face the prospect of life in an unfamiliar country.
UN agencies have responded to this emerging humanitarian crisis by establishing camps and offering services and other urgent lifesaving help. One of the first priorities, says UNDP, is to understand the scope of the problem. UNDP, the International Organization for Migration, the UN High Commission for Refugees, as well as UNICEF, are collecting data which will be used by Chad’s Ministry of Planning to identify the areas that need help the most and begin resettlement efforts.
For the Chadian communities hosting the large numbers of newcomers, the situation can be difficult. In a country with already scarce resources, the effect on healthcare, schools and basic services, like garbage removal, not to mention livelihoods, and the availability of jobs is expected to be devastating and will exacerbate an existing humanitarian crisis that is the result of years of drought in the Sahel region.
The government is predicting that this year’s harvest will be 19 percent lower than the annual average and that 1.5 million Chadians will be “food insecure” by the end of 2014. UNDP is developing a range of long-term activities that will address some of these issues and has pledged local-level support to resettle refugees, as well as investment in better job opportunities and basic social services. (Similar interventions will take place in Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.)
But right now, the situation remains critical. “The refugees are arriving in areas that are already struggling to fulfil the basic needs of local populations, let alone absorb the newcomers,” said Thomas Gurtner, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Chad. “Because permanent resettlement is a possibility, we need to help local authorities accommodate these new people and increase services, such as education and healthcare, to all.”
Meanwhile, in the transit centre in N'Djamena, in south-western Chad, many returnees are still baffled about the recent violent turn of events. Among these, is Ahmad Abubakar, an 18-year-old student who was born and raised in Bangui. "I was born there, I have friends," he says. "But then neighbours--my own neighbours--came to attack me at home. It hurts. How can a person with whom we lived, with whom we played ball, suddenly want to kill you?"
His friend, Abdelaziz Hamid, 20, was a first year economics student before the conflict interrupted his classes. "Since 5 December, my neighbourhood has been a mess," he says. "We heard screams, fighting and gunfire all around the house. We went to take refuge, but the violence continued and we decided to leave this hell."
Many refugees have become resigned to a long wait. For Galmi and her three daughters, the way back to the Central African Republic which they once called home, appears closed. "What is certain is that I don't want to go back to Bangui. I no longer feel safe after what happened to my husband," Galmi says. "Neighbours have told me that my house has been destroyed. I have to rebuild my life now."