Sudan Conflict Crosses into Neighboring Chad

Hawaye Ismail from Mitematko, a small village near Chad's border with Darfur, and child.

Hawaye Ismail from Mitematko, a small village near Chad's border with Darfur. She has been displaced three times, chased out of her home by Janjaweed militiamen, mirroring attacks on civilians across the border in Darfur in recent years. Ismail was one of 600 men, women and children who trekked to the village of Karo, looking for refuge. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR

Since the crisis in Darfur erupted three years ago, Sudanese refugees have poured across the border seeking shelter in neighboring Chad. Now, the conflict has followed them.

In recent months, attacks on Chadians by Arab militiamen have forced tens of thousands to flee their homes. The growing insecurity has prompted aid agencies to withdraw staff, leaving the displaced feeling even more vulnerable.

The Darfur crisis has left more than 200,000 dead and displaced more than 2.5 million, many of whom trekked to refugee camps in Chad. Since April, up to 100,000 Chadians have been displaced by attacks, straining an army that is already trying to put down an internal rebellion.

Regional governor Mahamat Nimir Hamata says, "Listen, you must remember that the Chadian army is facing a rebellion, as well as a war that has been imposed on us by neighboring Sudan.

"We will take on the rebels, but the international community must do its part to help the displaced Chadians, the Darfur refugees and humanitarian workers."

The stories of refugees in eastern Chad echo the turbulence in Darfur. Rebels, militiamen, bandits and weapons are spilling over the border from Sudan. The violence is fueled by ethnic hatred, poisonous politics and ancient disputes over land and water.

The U.N. Refugee Agency has been forced to withdraw aid workers from parts of Chad due to the unsafe conditions. Relief food stocks and emergency supplies have been looted, totalling losses of more than a million dollars. However, UNHCR spokeswoman Helene Caux says those in the camps will be cared for.

"We've made sure with the refugees and our local partners that refugees will have access to water, basic medical care and access food," she says. "We are not abandoning the refugees. We have put together contingency plans so that everything can continue working."

Hamaye Ismail, displaced from Mitematko border village, is one in a group of about 600 women, men and children who have gathered in a dusty clearing 25 miles from the eastern Chadian town of Goz Beida.

"Look at us, we are surrounded by death, she says. "We have nothing to eat, nothing to drink. The Janjaweed Arabs killed 14 people in the raid on my village. We escaped to a nearby village. But days later, the Arabs were back and they drove us out again. Some of the attackers abused women and young girls."

The departure of the aid workers, just as she arrives seeking help, is little consolation for Hamaye Ismail and the group of women keenly listening to her.

"Only God knows what we've been through," she says.

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