Arab refugees flee Chad —into Darfur?

Sudan has asked a UN team to travel to Darfur to evaluate the status and needs of 45,000 men, women and children who have crossed over from Chad in the last three months. Gathered in camps near the Sudanese border post of Foro Baranga, West Darfur, they appear to be Arab nomads, but it is not clear if they are refugees fleeing conflict in Chad. “The Sudanese government has asked us to provide assistance,” UNHCR spokeswoman Helene Caux told Reuters in Geneva. “At this point we don’t know who they are and we need more information—are they refugees or nomads, have some been fighters in Chad? We have to determine their status.”

Sudan and Chad signed a reconciliation deal last week, pledging to cooperate with the UN to stabilize the Darfur region and the neighboring conflict zones in Chad. Chad has repeatedly accused Sudan of backing rebels in its territory and of supporting attacks in Chad by Janjaweed militia based in Darfur. The Sudanese accuses Chad of backing guerillas in Darfur, and denies ties to the Janjaweed.

The UNHCR said last month that up to 400 people had been killed in an attack on two villages in eastern Chad, which survivors said was carried out by Sudanese and local Janjaweed militia aided by Chadian guerillas. (The Guardian, May 11)

We noted last year that Niger, to the west of Chad, was preparing to forcibly expel Arab nomads into Chadian territory. Has Chad now just dumped them on Sudan—in the middle of a war zone?

Due to the divide-and-conquer game the colonial powers (principally France and Britain) played in the region, the northern borders of the Sahel states cut huge zig-zags across the African continent. Nations with northern capitals and Arab (or Arabized) ruling elites alternate with nations with southern capitals and Black African rulers. (Can you pass this quiz?) In the former (Sudan, Mauritania), Black Africans are systematically oppressed. In the latter (Mali, Niger, Chad), Arab and Tuareg nomads are excluded from political power. Rival states sponsor (or are accused of sponsoring) ethnic guerillas in each other’s territories. And as the Sahara expands (thank global warming) the inexorable conflict between pastoral nomads and sedentary agriculturalists spreads south into sub-Sahel states like Nigeria and the Central African Republic.

We’re afraid it is going to take a lot more than earnest moralizing to even begin to get a handle on the fast-spreading Sahel crisis.

See our last posts on Darfur and Chad.