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Refugees from Border Wars Crowd Chad Village

Sultan Saeed Brahim Moustapha, the traditional leader in the border region, says it's the responsibility of Chad's government to protect the refugees.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR
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Sultan Saeed Brahim Moustapha, the traditional leader in the border region, says it's the responsibility of Chad's government to protect the refugees.

The Chadian village of Gouroukoun sits in a sprawling, dusty valley at Goz Beida, about a hundred miles from the Chad-Sudan border to the east. The population is normally 400, but now it looks like a giant refugee camp, with temporary straw shelters as far as the eye can see.

Thousands of refugees have shown up in recent weeks, and truckloads more arrive each day.

They're fleeing various armed groups operating along the 1,000-mile border between Chad's border with Sudan. The displaced Chadians in Gouroukoun say they were attacked by Sudanese government-backed Janjaweed militia on killing and looting sprees.

Janjaweed loosely translates in Arabic as "devils on horseback." The much-feared Arab militiamen are blamed for a three-year campaign of murder, rape and looting in Sudan's western Darfur region... just across the border from Chad.

The civilians are especially vulnerable because Chadian government soldiers, battling what the government claims is a Sudanese-backed rebellion, are patrolling strategic towns and leaving much of the frontier unguarded.

U.N. officials say the Janjaweed have pressed attacks deeper into Chad in recent months.

But the Janjaweed are not the only predators in the region. Some refugees say the militiamen are collaborating with Chadian bandits -- making the most of lax border security -- to pillage and kill.

The influx of Chadians into Gouroukoun, fleeing Janjaweed attacks at the border, shows little sign of easing. And the displaced women look set to continue lamenting the loss of their families, friends and livelihoods. Many of the Chadians say they will not go back to their border homes, even if security improves, because they no longer feel safe there.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.