Oxfam today criticised European Union member states for failing to provide an urgently needed neutral force to protect over 400,000 Darfuri refugees and displaced people in Eastern Chad after fighting forced the agency to temporarily suspend operations in parts of the country. Oxfam argue that in order to be effective the force must maintain strict neutrality and protect civilians from any, and all perpetrators of violence.
Chad has been promised an EU force – which includes Irish, Belgian, French and Swedish soldiers – which was due to arrive in October but a series of setbacks has seen its arrival delayed until at least the new year.
Head of Oxfam in Chad, Roland Van Hauwermeiren said:
"The current state of insecurity underlines the urgent need for an immediate deployment of a truly neutral force to protect innocent people caught up in the conflict. Europe's delay in bringing security could mean that once the multi-national force finally arrives, they could find themselves in the midst of a deepening civil war. We appeal to EU foreign ministers to live up to their commitments to the people of Chad and commit the needed troops and adequate equipment immediately."
Fighting between rebels and government forces close to the border with Sudan has left aid agencies increasingly concerned about the immediate future of the humanitarian aid effort which is delivering assistance to 185,000 displaced people and 235,000 Darfuri refugees who have no other means of support.
As a result of the fighting, there is a real danger that aid agencies could be subjected to an upsurge in attacks by armed groups looking to steal vehicles or money from agencies who have suffered attacks, hijackings, shootings and robbery in the last week alone. In 2006, two major attacks meant Oxfam's relief work was severely reduced with the aid effort being suspended for four months and the lives of vulnerable people reliant on aid, left hanging in the balance.
One in five Chadians in the eastern part of the country have been forced to flee their homes because of the conflict and over 600,000 people have been affected by the economic impact of the conflict. To address the long-term root causes of the conflict, there needs to be investment in peace building between different communities in eastern Chad.
Van Haumermeiren added:
"We are very concerned by the severe deterioration in security across the east of the country in the past week. We are already struggling to meet people's basic needs and this outbreak of fighting could mean even more pressure on limited resources."
"If we are forced to suspend our work in the camps and areas of displacement in eastern Chad where we provide clean water and sanitation, the people living there will suffer severe consequences. People here are worried that the more the fighting continues, the more people are likely to flee."