Moungoro/Koufroune, 9 May 2023 – This was not how Hawa hoped her homecoming would be.
Under a tree, the 60-year-old farmer has set up a makeshift shelter with walls and a roof of straw held up by branches she found nearby. She and her family recently arrived in Moungoro, a new displacement site in Eastern Chad hosting thousands of people fleeing war-torn Sudan.
Though she was born in Chad, Hawa has lived the last 20 years of her life in Jimerza, a small village located in Western Sudan about two hours away from the border with Chad. But when the violence escalated and reached her town, she fled across the border.
“We walked for hours, carrying only a few essential items on donkey-drawn carts,” she remembers. Upon arriving in Chad, they settled in the Moungoro site.
Since 15 April 2023, deadly violence has engulfed Sudan, killing more than 500 people including four UN staff members, and displacing an estimated 434,000 persons within as well as to neighbouring countries.
Among the people crossing the 1,400-kilometre-long border between Chad and Sudan are approximately 12,500 “returnees”; people of Chadian origin who had lived for decades in Sudan and must now rebuild their lives in a land they have not called “home” in a long time.
IOM Chad estimates that at least one out of eight people arriving from Sudan are Chadian returning migrants. “We are still conducting joint identification with the Government, but preliminary results show a large number of returnees,” explains Anne Kathrin Schaefer, the IOM Chad Chief of Mission.
In Koufroune, a village in the Ouaddai province of Eastern Chad located right at the border with Sudan, Ali, 19, is in good spirits despite the trauma he and his grandmother have just experienced. Originally from Borokola, a small village close to the Chadian border town of Adre, Ali and his family have lived in Tendelti, in Sudan for as long as he can remember.
“We travelled to Chad occasionally for family events, but our lives and business are all in Sudan,” he explains.
When fighting started in Khartoum, Ali knew it would eventually also reach his family, so they decided to leave. “We left everything behind and now, as the rainy season is approaching, we are not sure what will happen to our possessions in Sudan or to us here in Chad,” he says.
With the outbreak of violence in Sudan, Hawa, Ali, and countless others have found themselves in limbo, and at the risk of being left behind.
Returnees are often less visible because they have ties to their host countries. But like everyone else who has been affected by the recent events in Sudan, they need humanitarian assistance and protection because even though they are tied to Chad, they have not lived here in decades and must be supported to either reunite with their families or find a way to start anew.
As fighting continues, the future remains uncertain for Hawa, Ali and thousands of others. The needs are extreme as Eastern Chad already hosted nearly 400,000 Sudanese refugees before the violence erupted. The arrival of more people threatens to exacerbate an already fragile situation.
The situation is compounded by an imminent rainy season which will render road access to most of Eastern Chad challenging, and thus considerably affect the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Since the onset of the crisis, IOM has supported the Government of Chad and humanitarian actors to ensure that all vulnerable persons, including returning migrants, are integrated in the humanitarian response.
IOM has deployed field teams to support the identification and the registration of returning migrants like Hawa and Ali and is working with all partners to establish a referral system that ensures they have access to immediate lifesaving assistance.
“We remain committed to supporting the national and local authorities in finding a rapid and durable solution to this new wave of displacement,” says IOM’s Anne Kathrin Schaefer.
This story was written by François-Xavier Ada, Communications and Policy Officer with IOM in Chad.