Respect and protection for refugees in Chad
Gore, Chad: Just because people are refugees doesn't exclude them from rights or responsibilities. In southern Chad, one UNV volunteer sees to it that people continue to respect each other.
From the moment refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) cross the border into Chad, Belgian national Alexia Nisen is looking out for them. As an Assistant Protection Field Officer with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), she ensures that border guards are aware of the law and that displaced people are not exploited or turned back.
As they arrive in Chad, immediate medical assistance and food are offered to those most in need; people are issued temporary identity bracelets and then transferred to the camps. There are three main camps near the town of Gore – Amboko, Gondje and Dosseye – all covered by the UNHCR office there.
Ms. Nisen's role comes to the fore once the refugees are settled. Though elsewhere governments sometimes have a short-term approach to refugees, in Chad it is accepted that people will not be going back to the CAR any time soon. Thus different longer-term needs arise.
One of these is justice. As well as the occasional criminal incident among the legitimate refugees, sometimes former bandits and combatants who have got past the border checks are in their midst too. It is essential that human rights are maintained for everyone, both victims of crime and those identified as perpetrators.
Ms. Nisen works closely with the local police, ensuring they are familiar with the relevant procedures. She also helps monitor conditions in the Chadian prisons outside the camp where troublemakers are sent. It is important too to ensure the people displaced from CAR know Chadian law. Disputes within the camps are sometimes solved via traditional methods, but the UNV volunteer oversees these when possible so that human rights are not degraded.
Other major issues Ms. Nisen must deal with are sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and the rights of children. Many people in the camps hold to traditional tribal values, so great tact is required when dealing with the men to inform them on human rights. Just as much sensitivity is need when coaxing abused women to talk. Ms. Nisen refers them to volunteer representatives within the refugee community and ensures the women can consult a doctor.
Children are especially vulnerable, being at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriages. Unaccompanied children may be sexually abused or forced into work as domestic servants. When possible, Ms. Nisen will try to reunite them with their families but ultimately it is the refugee community that must look after them.
Therefore, the UNV volunteer has helped set up committees of volunteers within the camp to monitor the issues above, circulate information and sensitize the population to SGBV and child abuse. Another method used to keep human rights in people's minds is through traditional dance and theatre, where the performers are the women and children of the camps themselves.
The final issue is integration. It helps that the Chadian population and the CAR refugees generally come from the same ethnic group, but tensions are inevitable. Ms. Nisen has therefore helped to set up mechanisms for camp-dwellers and locals to trade together at the market, and facilities such as shared medical clinics and waste incinerators. These activities help bring them together.
It can never be perfect, but through the efforts of Alexia Nisen, aged just 25, and her colleagues from UNV, UNHCR and the local government, Camps Amboko, Gondje and Dosseye are better places to live.
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