CAMEROON-CHAD: Aid reaches refugees in Maltam amid difficult conditions

Friday, March 7, 2008

As refugees began moving from the northern Cameroonian town of Kousseri to a more permanent site in Maltam some 32 kilometres away this week, services and facilities were being rapidly prepared to accept them but conditions remain extremely basic.

Refugees, most of whom fled Chad at the beginning of February when anti-government rebels launched an attack on the capital N’djamena, started being trucked to Maltam on 16 February.

“It is very cold at night,” said Esther Deborah, who arrived with her three children, echoing concerns expressed by many refugees about conditions in the windy camp which is on a flat piece of land buffeted by dust storms during Cameroon’s dry season.

Tents for an initial 800 people were already in place, and there are plans to expand the camp, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said. Ely Salem, a World Food Programme official, told IRIN that 4,500 families had expressed interest in moving to Maltam. So far around 2,400 refugees have been registered at the camp.

Conditions remain difficult

Because the camp is far from town, some were also concerned by the lack of food stuffs available to buy and sell—particularly fresh fish and vegetables. “They gave us rice, grain, oil, and biscuit,” Bambaye Ramaud, age 43, told IRIN. “But without the sauce [which adds flavor], how can I convince my children to eat it?”

Others who had made a basic living with petty commerce in the bustling border town Kousseri in the preceding week are discouraged that they have not found the same opportunities in Maltam.

Each family registered at Maltam has received a 14 day supply from aid agencies that includes rice, grains, mosquito nets, kitchen sets, lamps, water containers, blankets, and floor mats.
Still staying

Many refugees still said they would remain in Cameroon, for fear that security had not yet returned to Chad’s capital.

UNHCR representative Jacques Franquin said in a statement on 12 February that the agency expects around 20,000 Chadians to stay in Cameroon “for the medium term”.

Youths in particular, who were reportedly being forcibly recruited into the Chadian army and by rebels, seemed especially concerned about their futures back in N’djamena.

“Everything looks good to me here because I feel better,” 25-year-old Aldombaye Ngara, a student in his third year of university back in Chad told IRIN. “I fled because of the war, and because of the security… I will go back when the political situation changes.”

Stability is returning to N’djamena, and returns are continuing. However, should another disturbance push more refugees over the border, many UN and non-governmental organisations have set up offices in Kousseri.

“We are even better prepared now than previously,” Sophie de Caen, the UN Coordinator for Cameroon, told IRIN. “Now if refugees came, they would be moved immediately to the permanent site in Maltam.”

Source: IRIN