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Am Nabak is a fine place for camels. It is rocky and dry, and getting drier. The water table can't support the current population of a few camels and around 17,000 refugees from the war in Darfur, so water is brought in overland by truck. The camp is situated scant 25 kilometers from the Darfur border. This is too close to the war zone by United Nations standards; it was only supposed to be a transit camp through which refugees passed on their way to more permanent and secure camps. But the refugees have settled in at Am Nabak and, despite the urging of the UN Refugee Agency, prefer to remain close to the border.
The UN Mission in Chad and the Central African Republic (known by its French acronym MINURCAT) and the Chadian government are charged with protecting the refugees. The UN and European Union peacekeepers are stretched thinly across the region, and the Government of Chad has fewer than 1,000 gendarmes to secure an area three times the size of California.
So the UN, with support from the U.S. State Department, has initiated an ambitious program to train, equip and field 850 police officers and station them around eastern Chad's numerous refugee camps and collection sites for internally displaced persons. All 850 have been trained and about 600 of these federal police, part of a structure called Détachement Intégré de Sécurité or DIS, are already deployed.
Some DIS officers came to Am Nabak recently on what is known as a verification mission. Verification means a counting of internally displaced and refugees but also offers the police a chance to validate that those living in the camp and profiting from the security, food and medical care provided there are entitled to it. It assures that they are refugees and not insurgents on rest and recuperation from the front. The presence of arms would put the camp residents in danger of being attacked by forces intent on stopping the insurgency. The presence of armed actors to the conflict in refugee camps would also break one of the cardinal tenets of relief work - that it be impartial. The DIS officers, thus, provide security through their presence near and in the camps, as well as by insuring that the camps retain their civilian nature and status. But the funding for their operations is in danger of running out.
The MINURCAT Trust Fund is, like Am Nabak, drying up. UN peacekeeping Assistant Secretary General Dimitry Titov visited eastern Chad this week and noted that the $21M pledged for the trust fund won't last the year. That's a shame and it could put the refugees in Am Nabak and the other camps in eastern Chad in danger.
If the fund does run out and the DIS operations stop, it would also signal an interruption of the international community's work helping Chad build a stronger and more professional justice sector. MINURCAT and the donors to the Trust Fund plan to implement a case tracking mechanism, introduce mobile courts to eastern Chad and strengthen the prison system there.
This type of State-building is an ancillary effect that we don't often see in peacekeeping. This makes the MINURCAT effort with the DIS, and more broadly with Chad's security sector, even more exciting and important.
Some of the Darfurian refugees have been in camps since 2004 and it doesn't appear that the war in Darfur will end in the near future. The UN and international donor support, implemented by agencies on the ground feeds, shelters and provides for the most basic needs of these vulnerable populations. We hope the United States and other donors can find the necessary money to keep the Trust Fund afloat.