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in the Kalambari camp, hunger, a companion of misfortune for Cameroonian refugees

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Anita walks in Kalambari refugee camp, Chad, May 10, 2022. She had to flee communal violence that occurred between August and December 2021 in her village in Cameroon.

Anita doesn’t know if she and her three daughters will be able to eat today. Since his arrival in January in the Chadian camp of Kalambari, about ten kilometers south of N’Djamena, the monthly ration of millet delivered by the World Food Program (WFP) has been struggling to feed his family for more than two weeks. “I was a trader but I have nothing left to sell hereworries the 30-year-old from Kidam, Cameroon. And we have no land to cultivate. »

In the shelter she shares with another single mother and her four children, a few donated clothes hang from the wire that crosses the room. On the ground, a single mat for the nine occupants. It’s all of his property. “On August 11, 2021, my village was attacked by armed men, Anita says. I’ve seen men get shot. We fled without being able to take anything and our house was burned down. »

In August and then in December 2021, clashes between Arab Choa herders and Mousgoum fishermen and farmers left at least 67 dead and hundreds injured in the Cameroonian department of Logone-et-Chari (Far North region). “Tensions between the two communities date back to the 1970s and are rekindled with each period of drought over issues of water and grazing land scarcity, explains Armel Sambo, historian at the University of Maroua. But the intensity of the violence at the end of 2021 is unprecedented. »

Deinaba Hamid takes care of her little brothers in her shelter in the Kalambari refugee camp, about ten kilometers south of N'Djamena.

This time, it was a fishing practice that set the area ablaze: the canal technique, which consists of digging a long and deep pit to catch the fish. Arab herders complain of seeing their cattle fall into these trenches as the animals approach to find water.

Since the 1990s, tensions have taken on an ethnic dimension. “The Shoa Arabs, who are better off, would have easier access to key administrative posts and the Mousgoum feel aggrieved, even in areas where they are in the majority, says Armel Sambo. In addition, the populations reproach the authorities for having stirred up tensions by organizing elections for the chiefdoms, whereas tradition has it that they are transmitted from father to son. »

The Arabs in N’Djamena, the Mousgoums in Kalambari

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 44,000 Cameroonians have found refuge in Chad since August 2021. Among them, many are those who go back and forth between their villages and Chadian localities on the banks of the Chari River. , which marks the border between the two countries, and 10,754 were housed in camps. To avoid new clashes between these populations of exiles, the two communities have been settled in separate sites: the Arabs in the Guilmey camp, in N’Djamena, and the Mousgoums in Kalambari.

Solomon belongs to this fishing community. In August, after the very first attack, the retired nurse left his village with his wife and four of his children. He found refuge on the other side of the river, in Oundouma. “Chadian families took us into their homes for five months, until we were relocated to Kalambari in January,” says the sixty-year-old, who has become spokesman for the camp. Quickly, he undertook the construction of his home by making clay bricks himself: “I quickly understood that we were going to stay a long time. In the village, the situation is too unstable for us to return. »

The sons of Salomon, the spokesperson for the Kalambari camp, build a shelter with bricks provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (HRC).

The Kalambari camp – a former wasteland transformed by UNHCR – now has a health center and two schools. Bricks are gradually replacing the tarpaulins of the 1,900 shelters. On May 10, it already hosted 7,490 people and the population continues to increase.

Despite the recurring community conflicts in the Far North, such an influx of refugees had never been seen on the Chadian side. In December 2021, after an escalation of violence in Cameroon, the Farcha neighborhood in western N’Djamena was overwhelmed by a massive influx of new arrivals. “It was then that the Chadian authorities understood that the situation would not be resolved in two months,” explains Ali Amadou, program manager at the International Rescue Committee (IRC): “It seemed obvious to them that strategies should be developed to get out of this emergency situation and take care of them over the longer term. »

Violent clashes between refugees and residents

According to Mahamat Abderrahman, the coordinator of the National Commission reception and reintegration of refugees and returnees (Cnarr), the situation is far from being peaceful and the presence of the Cameroonian authorities on the other side of the border is fueling a psychosis among the refugees: “It is said that the army would carry out arbitrary arrests of all who return, but we have no proof of this. » The question of opening a third camp is under discussion to bring together the other refugees living in the thirty or so sites that have emerged spontaneously along the Chari River.

In Kalambari, “The Cnarr continues to send us refugees every day”, warns Ibrahim Nour, the camp manager: “The food rations are insufficient, but we cannot afford to provide more. We must share because the needs are many. »

A French class in the Cameroonian refugee camp of Kalambari, Chad, May 10, 2022.

Every month, the WFP has to deal with other emergencies on Chadian territory and distribute food to 406,000 internally displaced persons and 574,000 refugees from all neighboring countries. Chad is experiencing one of the worst food crises in a decade, with 4 million people suffering from hunger. In February, at Guilmey camp, violent clashes erupted between refugees and local residents who had entered the site to steal supplies. The associations then decided to integrate the local populations into the food aid programme, whose rations had to be halved in October 2021, due to growing needs.

On this May day, in Kalambari, once the foodstuffs have been distributed, the tension is palpable among the few men in a community made up of nearly 90% women and children. “We are tired of waiting for the distributionsgets angry a beneficiary. We want to cultivate ourselves and feed our children. » But in the Lake Chad region, recurrent droughts and demographic pressure have already greatly reduced the number of fertile lands available.

“Our men had to leave and risk their lives to get food in Cameroon,” deplores Anita, whose husband has not given a signed life since December. She volunteered to be the referent community health. “Care is freeshe says, but the drugs risk killing us if we have nothing in our stomachs. »

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