Cameroonian refugees cross river to Chad as carnage displaces thousands

By Mahamat Ramadane

KOUNDOUL, Chad (Reuters) – Cameroonian farmer Saleh Abderamane was bleeding from a machete wound to his head when his relatives ferried him across the river border to Chad among thousands of refugees fleeing violence between farmers and herders.

The 34-year-old was attacked during a spate of fighting fueled by water disputes in the Far North region that has driven 48,000 people to seek refuge in Chad so far this month, according to Chadian authorities.

“I nearly died far out in the bush but luckily my relatives found me and took me across the river,” said Abderamane at a camp on the outskirts of Chad’s capital N’Djamena.

A bloodstained bandage swathed the entire crown of his head.

“We can’t go back there soon because even if the other communities don’t kill us, we would die of hunger,” he said, recalling the destruction of food stores, markets and fields.

Refugees, mostly women and children, are still trying to reach Chad, crossing the rivers Chari and Logone on rickety boats. Exhausted new arrivals to one of the camps were greeted with tears and wails of recognition from friends and relatives.

The number of such refugees has risen 60% in the past week, putting substantial pressure on local communities which were already facing food shortages, said Chad’s Minister of Territorial Administration Mahamat Bechir Chérif.

The refugees are staying in informal camps along the river bank outside the capital. Lacking proper shelter, they sleep in the open air. Teary-eyed children line up in the midday sun for meals from the local Red Cross.

Chad is already home to close to 1 million refugees and internally displaced people and its resources to respond to their needs are critically low, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said.

The agency, which is responding to the crisis, said the situation in the Far North region remained volatile, although security forces had been sent in an effort to restore calm.

At least 22 people have been killed since the clashes broke out in early December following disputes between Arab Choa herders and Mousgoum and Massa farmers and fishermen, local authorities said last week.

Similar violence in August killed dozens of people and forced thousands to flee to Chad.

(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Angus MacSwan)