The Governor of the Region de Dila, a large area in Eastern Chad around the town of Goz Beida, drinks Coke Zero. I was lucky that there was more than one in the tray that one of his men brought to the large gathering of officials for what we had thought was going to be just as quick a formality, as the time I met him in December. If cold drinks are being distributed to such a large group, it’s not going to be a quick formality.
Whenever we arrive in a town or village, we have to check in with the local official; it usually does not take more than ten minutes. This time, the Governor wanted to chat, and we had Fanta, from UNHCR, as our reluctant French-to-English translator.
The Governor gives the immediate impression of a serious man. He wore a blue suite on his square broad shoulders, and his face has traditional scaring, lines that go down from his forehead to his chin, as if a lion had taken a swipe at him. When he spoke, he was serious and deliberate, thanking us for visiting from so far and for doing our work in the camps.
The main point he wanted to get across though, and the reason I believe he had all his men present — to make a bigger impression on us, is that the Chadian displaced population needs help, serious help.
The internally displaced persons (IDP) are not refugees, since they did not cross an international border, so UNHCR’s role is very different than what it is in a refugee camp. UNHCR provides support but not at the same level. The Governor said that the Chadian children that have been displaced by violence also need education, and they have no schools in the areas they are being asked to return to, where their homes used to be. He believes that it is not right for the refugee population to live in higher standards than the IDP population, and no one in the room could argue with that.
I promised the Governor that I would share his concern with others.
The Governor did finally smile, and his whole serious facade crumbled, at least for a few seconds.