Chad/Central African Republic - The Government of Chad this week started a massive air evacuation of Chadian migrants who are caught in the fighting in the Central African Republic (CAR). On 25 December, six flights brought home safely 1,254 migrants to the capital N’Djamena.
“We have not seen an operation like this one since the IOM massive emergency operation during the peak of the Libya crisis in 2011,” said Dr. Qasim Sufi, the IOM Chief of Mission in Chad, as the IOM Operations and Medical teams are busy in providing assistance to the evacuated migrants, both at the International Airport as well as the Transit Centres in N’Djamena.
Since the emergency air evacuation began on 21 December, as of 25 December, 2,743 migrants had been assisted to return to their country safely aboard 19 flights.
IOM staff on the ground report that the security situation in Bangui is deteriorating with multiple incidents opposing communities. On 26 December heavy gunfire was heard at the Hotel Ledger, about 3 kilometers from the city center. The level of the crisis is expected to intensify in the coming days.
“The Governments of Senegal and Niger have also reached out to IOM for assistance to evacuate their nationals from the Central African Republic. IOM is ready to help but we must secure urgent funding. We must stress to our donors and partners that migrants’ lives are at great risk” said Mohammed Abdiker, Director of IOM’s Department of Emergencies.
The Senegalese authorities estimate that some 400 of their nationals are in urgent need of evacuation.
Niger authorities have identified 800 nationals in need of urgent evacuation in the capital Bangui, but the total number is estimated to be 2,000 Niger nationals.
CAR is one of the six countries that border Chad and hosts hundreds of thousands of Chadian migrants.
The majority of Chadians being evacuated are women, children and the elderly who have experienced very intensive psychological trauma and physical injuries. Many of those being evacuated broke down in tears as soon as they arrived at the N’Djamena Airport.
“We have been targeted by the same people with whom we lived side by side for decades,” cried a migrant as she told her story to IOM staff. “At the moment there is no other solution for Chadians in CAR but to return home,” she added.
The air evacuation operation is ongoing. And as the number of the evacuated migrants is increasing steadily, the Government of Chad opened a third Transit Centre in N’Djamena “Klemat” on 25 December to ensure temporary accommodation and the provision of emergency assistance to those arriving in the capital.
Among the group of migrants evacuated on 25 December, there were 15 unaccompanied minors. University students were also among those who have managed to return to their country on these flights.
The migrants evacuated so far are those who succeeded in seeking refuge at Bangui International Airport. But many migrants cannot make it to the airport.
At the request of the Government of Chad, IOM is providing emergency humanitarian assistance to the returning migrants including registration, food, non-food items, and health services including psychosocial care in the transit centers in N’Djamena, prior to organizing their transportation to their final destinations in the country.
IOM is working closely with UNICEF, UNFPA, WHO, WFP, UNHCR, UNDP and OCHA, as well as with the International and National Red Cross Societies to assist the Chadian authorities in addressing both the immediate and longer term needs of the evacuated migrants and in coordinating the emergency response to the different groups being evacuated.
“The Government of Chad has presented a new request to IOM for assistance in the evacuation and in the provision of emergency assistance to the thousands of Chadian migrants currently stranded in CAR, and those who have been evacuated,” said Dr. Sufi. “For this reason IOM Chad is appealing to its donors for urgent financial support to meet the needs of these migrants in distress”, he added.