The Chadian government's decision to close the country's lengthy southern border will have a disastrous impact on men, women and children fleeing months of worsening ethnically-motivated violence in the Central African Republic (CAR), Amnesty International said today.
Yesterday it was revealed that, on 11 May, Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno announced the closure during a visit to the frontier between the two countries. He said that the border would be "sealed" to everyone except returning Chadian citizens and their belongings "until the crisis in the Central African Republic is resolved".
"President Déby has slammed the door in the face of refugees arriving from CAR, condemning them to continued suffering. He must reverse this decision and the international community must do more to support the tens of thousands of refugees from CAR who have fled to Chad," said Christian Mukosa, Amnesty International's Researcher on Central Africa.
"More than 360,000 people have already fled from CAR to neighbouring countries - many of those have fled since December 2013, when the current crisis escalated into a cycle of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including ethnic cleansing. Closing the Chadian border now will cut off a crucial lifeline to civilians seeking refuge in Chad.
"Civilians from CAR must not be sent back across the border where they will be at heightened risk of being attacked or killed."
Amnesty International noted that the Chadian authorities' decision could pave the way for abuses at the border that would potentially impact Chadians as well as foreign nationals. Since many people fleeing the conflict in CAR lack documentation, it will be difficult to determine their nationality.
The border between the two countries measures some 1,000 km. Tens of thousands of CAR civilians - as well as former combatants - have already streamed into Chad, with many facing very dire conditions in formal refugee camps as well as informal settlements.
Recent updates from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) indicate that refugees from CAR are still arriving at the Chadian border. Some have walked for close to two months to get there. As well as showing signs of overall fatigue, UNHCR has documented 28 cases of malnutrition, three cases of bullet wounds requiring specialized surgery, as well as dysentery and scabies among the recent arrivals.
In March 2014 Amnesty International visited some of the refugee camps on the Chadian side of the border. The scarcity of aid and overall insecurity there prompted the organization to warn that those fleeing CAR could face a second humanitarian crisis inside Chad.
On a visit to Chad last week, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos called for more to be done to assist refugees from CAR and elsewhere who have sought shelter within Chad's borders.
Chad is a state party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.
In April 2014, Chad withdrew its contingent of 850 troops from the African Union-led peacekeeping force in CAR, after Chadian soldiers were credibly accused of using indiscriminate force against civilians.