African News

Sudan: UNHCR Condemns Forced Recruitment

1 April 2006 at 22:04 | 447 views

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has called for an end to the forced conscription of Sudanese refugees in Chad, warning that the practice is further evidence of mounting insecurity along the volatile border area.

"UNHCR strongly condemns the forced recruitment of Sudanese refugees from Darfur by various armed groups in some of our camps in eastern Chad, breaching the civilian character of asylum and of our camps," agency spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva. "We call upon all parties involved to put an end to these activities in our camps."

Investigations by UNHCR teams and testimonies from refugees show that recruiting took place between Friday afternoon, 17 March, and Sunday, 19 March - a weekend, when fewer humanitarian staff are present in the camps. "Although we’re unable at this stage to give precise figgures, initial assessments indicate that several hundred men were recruited in Treguine, Breidjing and Farchana," Mr. Redmond said.

While most of those targeted were aged 15 to 35, even younger boys were also conscripted, he said. Most were recruited by force, but some joined voluntarily.

While declining to speculate on who was responsible, Mr. Redmond said the agency had been told by some refugees that they had been brought to training bases across the border in Darfur.

"This activity is further evidence of the growing insecurity that has now spread to both sides of the Chad-Sudan border - something High Commissioner António Guterres has been warning about for months," Mr. Redmond said, noting that clashes conttinue to be reported in eastern Chad.

In high-level meetings over the past week with Chadian authorities, UNHCR officials "strongly stressed that the civilian character of the refugee camps must be maintained at all times, and respected in all circumstances," Mr. Redmond said. "During those meetings, we reminded the government of Chad that it is primarily responsible for ens security of refugee camps on its territory."

The Government has promised to increase the deployment of gendarmes around the camps to prevent the entry of arms or armed individuals. "We also asked the government for its support in ensuring the safe return of recruited refugees," the spokesman said.

More than 200,000 refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region are in 12 UNHCR-run camps along the border in eastern Chad.

Photo: Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal. His men are causing havoc in Darfur.