ANN CAHILL: Safe from janjaweed: A camp with its own ‘Fifth Avenue’

THE refugee camp of D’jabal is a rough 20-minute ride away from Camp Ciara.

It is one of several refugee and displaced persons camps in the vicinity holding about 80,000 refugees from Darfur and 100,000 displaced Chadians.

It first opened three years ago as families of Sudanese flooded across the border, fleeing from janjaweed attacks on their villages. The UN and a dozen development and aid bodies run the camp, which is a highly organised.

The whole camp is organised on a New York-style grid system with lanes and streets intersecting at regular intervals. The UN explains this is to ensure that vehicles can access every family as quickly as possible in the event of an emergency. The traditional circular straw huts with cone shaped roofs are organised neatly in little compounds surrounded by more straw fences.

There are schools and kindergartens, a medical clinic, a market where people sell their produce daily and even a “Fifth Avenue”, as the UN project manager Eva Garcia described it. These are not shops as those used to Western cities would understand them, but they have neat shelves with a straw awning and a proprietor sitting in front ready to sell their wares — mostly small items like soap. Many are owned by women who have borrowed money on the camp’s micro credit scheme.

In the market, similar examples of entrepreneurship are to be seen with men and women selling small quantities of onions, garlic and food products. The long row of meat counters are staffed by men offering cuts of meat that include long threads of intestines. While they get basic provisions each month from the World Food Programme, some work in the local town, while others manage to grow some food and create a small economy of their own in the camp.

The NGOs are also organised with as much care — each responsible for one aspect of the running of the camp from water to health and education.

One family we met were two sisters and their young children. One was just 18 years of age with her four-year-old daughter. Both of their husbands were missing. They said they fled when their village across the border in Sudan had been attacked. One of the women believed her husband was in Libya and she wants to return to their village in case he comes back there, looking for her.

But there is little chance in the current conditions that she will return and she feels safe in the camp.

Despite the threats in the region, EUFor were not welcomed with open arms — at least initially.

Some feared that the force will be seen as little more than an adjunct of the former colonial power, France and as a result, aid agencies feared their neutrality would be compromised by having anything to do with the troops.

The man in charge of Camp Ciara, Lieutenant Colonel Paddy McDaniel, is a veteran of several peacekeeping missions including to Eritrea, Ethiopia and Liberia, but he says it is difficult to underestimate how complex the situation is in Chad with 25 different rebel groups that splinter and coalesce regularly and are very mobile. While EUFor’s mandate is very robust, allowing the force to defend those they are protecting with fire, he said that just because they are allowed to use extremes does not mean that they will. “We have been doing peacekeeping for 50 years and we are not going to chuck away our principles now just because we can,” said Lt Col McDaniel.

However, after a few months and especially after responding well to rebel attacks on NGOs and refugees, he said there was a growing groundswell of goodwill.

“They have had a lot of trouble and they see us as making a significant contribution to bringing peace to the area,” he said.

Criticism is not just limited to politics however. Any increase of population in semi-desert conditions like eastern Chad puts a strain on already meagre resources and this could be especially so when the new people are Westerners used to copious amounts of water for instance. The Irish have dug their own wells and are recycling 75% of the water they use.

The other effect is on the local economy and in the fifth poorest country in the world, the effect of sudden wealth can be dramatic. Aid agencies have reported that the cost of food in the area has increased dramatically in recent months and believed part of this was due to the influx of troops.

However, they also acknowledge that the fuel crisis in the world has had a huge effect on food prices. Food in the camps has been reduced as more money had to be spent on transporting it overland to landlocked Chad.


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