Eastern Chad is currently facing an unprecedented new influx of refugees and returnees* from Sudan. On 15 April 2023, armed clashes broke out in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), forcing many families to leave their homes and seek refuge in neighbouring countries. From the very first weeks of the crisis, Acted intervened in Ouaddaï province, providing multi-sector humanitarian assistance to refugees and returnees. Six months on, the conflict continues to rage, and Acted keeps supporting those affected.
In the first weeks of the conflict, more than 30,000 refugees arrived in the town of Adré, which has a population of only 30,000 to 40,000. Today, there are more than 420,000 new refugees and returnees in eastern Chad, and the Chadian government, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimate that more than 600,000 Sudanese refugees and Chadian returnees will arrive in eastern Chad before the end of 2023.
The entire humanitarian community in eastern Chad, coordinated by the Commission Nationale d’Accueil et de Réinsertion des Réfugiés (CNARR) and the UNHCR, has mobilised to welcome these new refugees. New camps have been set up in Arkoum, Ourang, Metie and Zabout, and existing camps have been extended.
Acted, which has been present in Chad since 2004 in response to the Darfur crisis, has once again mobilised to provide humanitarian assistance to people arriving in Chad. Acted’s historical experience in the region and its expertise in emergency response enabled it to deploy rapidly, in particular by opening a base in Adré, the epicentre of the crisis.
*In this context, refugees are Sudanese people who have arrived in Chad after fleeing their country, and returnees are people of Chadian nationality who were living in Sudan before the start of the conflict.
As soon as the crisis began and the first refugees and returnees arrived at Chad’s Eastern border, Acted teams were mobilised in the East to identify the immediate and urgent needs of families who had crossed the border into Sudan. This rapid needs assessment took place over the course of a week at three sites where refugee populations, returnees and host communities were present.
The 45 individual interviews and six focus groups, each involving 20 people, half of them women, highlighted the main needs. Firstly, the beneficiaries expressed a lack of shelter, with many families having to take shelter under trees by setting up makeshift shelters, followed by increased food requirements. Lastly, needs in terms of latrines and water points were identified, also raising the issue of hygiene given the high concentration of people on the sites.
Thanks to the activation of the Start Network mechanism by the humanitarian community in Chad, Acted was able to intervene on 5 May 2023. This network of international NGOs makes it possible to finance emergency responses to crises in the initial stages, following the launch of an alert by member NGOs. Support from the Start Network enabled Acted, Première Urgence International (PUI) and local NGO ADRAH to combine their expertise and resources in a very short space of time to provide multi-sectoral assistance over 45 days.
In this respect, Acted, as a partner for the past 3 years of the Camp and Shelter for Refugees (RRM) sector in the Lac province, has taken charge of the distribution of 1,165 kits comprising, in particular, tarpaulins, mats, blankets, hygiene and kitchen items, solar lamps, as well as jerry cans for transporting water, meeting the immediate needs of the beneficiaries.
At the same time, PUI mobilised its existing mobile clinics and deployed them at the sites. In total, more than 10,000 consultations were carried out, demonstrating the scale of the health needs of the refugees, many of whom arrived injured.
In addition, the local NGO ADRAH, which has been active for many years in the east of the country, was able to start building 15 blocks of latrines and showers and 2 boreholes from the very first days, giving the targeted beneficiaries safe and dignified access to sanitation and water, while distributing 1,000 hygiene kits and 500 dignity kits for girls and women.
Finally, ADRAH, with its in-depth knowledge of the local culture, was the partner best placed to carry out the protection activities that are essential in such a context.
*The Rapid Response Mechanism is a population displacement watch, monitoring and warning system based on a network of informers throughout the Lake Chad Province. It provides rapid assistance to displaced people within three months of their displacement.
Of the refugees and returnees crossing the border, 83% are women and children, who are particularly vulnerable in situations of displacement such as this. According to Project 211’s Dashboard Monitoring of 27 September 2023, 13% of the refugees questioned said they had been physically attacked during their displacement to Chad, and 39% did not feel safe in the streets because of the risk of exposure to gender-based violence (GBV). Thanks to support from the Start Fund, ADRAH has organised awareness-raising sessions on cross-cutting protection and the risks of GBV, reaching more than 3,500 people and helping to identify and support more than 300 victims of protection incidents.
In order to create synergies between its various projects and to offer a global and coherent response to the crisis in the East, Acted has continued to work with ADRAH thanks to the support of the European Union, particularly for protection activities. As a result, ADRAH has been able to scale up its activities by opening four psychosocial listening centres to welcome victims in a safe and secure place, take the time to treat their case and refer them to other health centres or mental health services if necessary.
Some protection incidents can also be alerted through the Complaints Management Mechanism (CMM) set up by Acted at each of its intervention sites. This system is based on various tools and means of communication such as a complaints box, a toll-free number, or the possibility of speaking directly to dedicated Acted staff, in order to take into account all vulnerabilities and cultural differences and make the mechanism accessible to everyone.
The sharing of essential resources and services between local Chadian communities and Sudanese refugee populations is rapidly becoming a source of conflict, and represents a major obstacle to the integration of refugees, even though 64% of households say they have no intention of returning to Sudan and are therefore seeking to settle permanently in eastern Chad. Local communities are already suffering from very limited access to basic services, a lack of natural resources and the destruction of crops and infrastructure by the vagaries of the weather, which also makes them very vulnerable. In the province of Ouaddaï, 45% of producers are reporting a fall in their 2022-2023 production compared with the previous season2. The arrival of several hundred thousand refugees is putting even more pressure on these limited resources.
With this in mind, Acted and its local partner ADRAH are already taking steps to strengthen cohabitation between the two communities. For example, boreholes built with the support of the European Union are intended for both refugees and host villages. On the other hand, Acted, which is one of the major players in the construction of shelters in the various refugee and returnee camps thanks to support from the European Union and the French Crisis and Support Centre, has called on local labour to build the shelters. This not only generates income for the local community, but also increases acceptance and integration of the refugee population.
The crisis in the eastern provinces of Chad since 15 April 2023 is unprecedented. While more than 400,000 Sudanese refugees have been present in Chad since 2004, this figure has more than doubled in less than 6 months. Urgent needs in terms of water, shelter, essential household items, food and protection have increased dramatically, while overall funding requirements to respond to this crisis have only reached 20% according to the revised Refugee Response Plan3.
Acted is therefore continuing to work to meet the urgent and immediate needs of people affected by the crisis in Eastern Chad, while at the same time initiating the transition to early recovery, in particular through reforestation operations and the distribution of ecological stoves commonly known as "improved stoves", but above all through the development of more ambitious food resilience projects.