We have a bet to see how late we can sleep in this Sunday morning. I made it to 6:15, so I’m staying in my leopard print sheets to see if anyone will be fooled when I walk out at 7:30. Chad is an early morning country. When temperatures rise into the 100s before nine, you want to get up by five just to enjoy feeling comfortable. This means you go to bed by nine (a good three hours after dark, in a country without much of an electric grid). After two weeks, waking up at five is second nature.
Last night we celebrated the end of our interviews by inviting the head of UNHCR and a few of his compatriots (two Congolese) to a restaurant he suggested in Sarh, the Fourchette d’Or (“Fork of Gold”). There are 17 UNHCR staff personnel for the two camps for refugees from the Central African Republic in the region; that includes the drivers of the five or so vehicles they have. They are charged with running the local integration of Yaroungou, and providing for the recently arrived population of Moula, a camp established in May 2008. The fish and chicken at the Fourchette d’Or were good, and came with fries. Six fries, to be exact. We asked if we could get more fries. They brought a plate for the table with nine more. Our UNHCR colleagues, who knew the owner, brought him over and talked to him about this. He hauled out the waiter. The waiter went back to the kitchen to tell the chef. At the end of the meal, we got nine more fries for the table. If you’re counting, that’s not many fries.
Between fries there was a good conversation about local integration. A woman visiting the regional office from Abeche discussed the challenges of moving refugees to self-sufficiency and getting them to rely on locally-available services instead of relying on those services provided by NGOs in camps. The “problem” is that international standards for refugees are often higher than standards for local services. Health centers in refugee camps, for instance, are required to have three nurses, a few more health assistants, etc., etc., whereas as rural health bureaus in Chad are required to have only one nurse. Refugee health services are free, locals have to pay a small fee. In fact, there is one doctor for every 300,000 Chadians—a ratio like that in a refugee camp would be a crime. Legal status further complicates matters. If a local integration plan does not have legal support (e.g., a path to citizenship in the host country), then the refugee group becomes a semi-permanent subgroup of society, subject to all the perils and ambiguity that such groups often suffer. Local integration in a country like Chad is therefore, in some ways, a step down. In other ways, of course, it is not. Getting a population off dependency is ultimately the only long-term durable solution, and setting them up for self-sufficiency will ultimately benefit more individuals than providing a new sack of corn each month. The goal of UNHCR’s local integration strategy for Central African Republic refugees involves lessening aid to refugees as it encourages and supports development in the local community. The agricultural cooperatives which involve locals and refugees are an attempt to do that. In Goree, they are trying to support and supplement the health system. Even in the east, UNHCR is funding a few Darfur refugees to study medicine in Abeche, with the proviso that after they graduate they return to regional health centers near camps serving Chadians as well.
We conducted interviews in Moula yesterday. In Moula, refugees get 12 kg of foodstuff per family member per month and a hectare of land. The cooperative system isn’t at the same stage as it is in Yaroungou, but refugees do share two cows (courtesy UNHCR) among eight families for farming. Relations with locals sound more contentious in Moula than in Yaroungou, perhaps because Moula is located directly outside the small town in the area and thus there is a lot more contact. In addition, local Chadians and the most refugees in Yaroungou are Ngama, whereas in Moula people come from a completely different part of Central African Republic. One complaint was that the local people sometimes accuse the residents of Moula of being witches. Other than that, the recency of the residents’ arrival is distinctive. My colleague interviewed a woman who had arrived last Monday after walking with her family 10 days in the bush following the destruction of her village. She couldn’t say much more than she was glad to be there, and thankful that someone had given her a tent and a pot and a bag of food.