It was great to get out of N’djamena today, even if it required a plane ride that almost made me lose my breakfast (which consisted of a Cliffs granola bar). While I’m excited to get to the refugee camps tomorrow (finally!), I am nervous for a plane that will be smaller and a ride that will be bumpier; I was born with a large tendency towards motion sickness, apparently.
One of the things I’ve been asking myself a lot, as we get ready to meet refugees, is the ramifications of meeting Sudanese refugees in Eastern Chad. I think this is something that we have a tendency to gloss over; it’s easy to throw out the statistics that 2.5 million Darfurians have been displaced, and 90% of villages in the region have been destroyed, but those numbers carry far deeper ramifications.
It’s astonishing if you think about it for a second; 250,000 Darfurians are now living in Chad. Obviously, this is difficult for the Sudanese, who must leave everything they know behind them and embark for a foreign land. Furthermore, despite the brutal treatment they’ve gone through, many of them still carry nationalistic pride towards their native home. But it’s also hard for native Chadians; all of a sudden there are a quarter of a million people in your backyard, sharing your resources and occupying the attention of the entire international community. That’s not an easy thing to deal with, and I hope we can talk to some native Chadians about this situation, in addition to the Darfurian refugees.
The other problem lies with the “permanency” of the camps. When there’s not protection, the refugees are forced to stay in Chad, rather than risking everything to return home. Organizations like the UNHCR have done an admirable job in keeping people alive and stable. Problematically, however, if the refugees aren’t returned home, they can develop a dependency on the aid organizations. We’ve seen this over and over again throughout recent history; Somalia in the ‘90’s provides a good example.
I don’t think this is the fault of the humanitarian organizations; they are set up to focus on immediate refugee needs, not structural problems, like a lack of protection. But this also links to the lack of developmental and institutional infrastructure that Colin mentioned. While refugees in Chad require more than basic needs, in the form of services like counseling and basic institutional building, I can see why developmental groups would be apprehensive to go into an area that is defined as temporary. And W\without infrastructure and institutions, you get the problems of dependency; it’s a vicious circle.
The circle, however, can end with a viable protection force. As a conclusion to the North-South Civil War in Sudan, a robust international protection force accompanied the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. As a result, developmental groups flooded the region. I interned with an organization, the National Democratic Institute, last year that fit this mold. They now have a huge presence in the South, building up democratic institutions from the bottom up. This will be necessary in Eastern Chad, and in Darfur. But in order for any sort of development to occur, there needs to be a viable protection force. And it’s absurd that it still doesn’t exit.