January 23 2007
Chad: Traumatised children from Darfur need psychosocial care
23/01/2007 - After months of delays caused by security issues, SOS Children's Villages launched an emergency relief programme for refugees from Darfur in September 2006 in Bahai, eastern Chad. The SOS relief team, which also includes refugees, is working in Oure Cassoni, Chad's second largest refugee camp with around 26,000 people. The team focuses on providing psychosocial care for traumatised children and their parents. There is still a tremendous need for this care.
The emergency relief programme provides psychosocial support for 230 children and adults who had not received any support before its launch. Many of the refugees have been living in the temporary desert camp since 2004. "Before we had finished building the SOS Centre, we went directly to the families in their tents and where they were living to find those who needed help the most. People's reactions were very positive. The fact that someone was coming up to them, listening to them and taking their problems seriously helped them," says Yolanda van den Broek, director of the emergency relief programme, describing the initial reactions to the programme on the border with Sudan.
In Oure Cassoni, which is 23 kilometres from Bahai, the wind continually whips around and there are often severe sandstorms. The people completely depend on external help. Despite serious recurring incidents, NGOs and UN organisations provide everything from water and food to schools and shelter. SOS Children's Villages is the only NGO to offer psychosocial help in Bahai, and works closely with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Rescue Committee. "Since we are the only ones to provide psychosocial and psychiatric help, other NGOs contact us and ask us to help staff members who have been caught up in attacks or need psychological care for some other reason. We have even counselled a few NGO workers," says Yolanda.
The children almost always come to the SOS Social Centre accompanied by their mothers. There are few fathers in the camp, as many have died or are fighting in Sudan. Children experience symptoms such as nightmares, bedwetting and behavioural problems. They are often in a state of anxiety and it is not uncommon for them to have hallucinations. When possible, the children attend group therapy sessions, where they play, sing and paint; these activities provide children with a sense of security, which is extremely important. Brothers and sisters often come together because they are very afraid of being separated, and in serious cases, counsellors provide individual therapy or medication is proscribed. If necessary, the person is transferred to the health centre in Oure Cassoni, the district hospital in Bahai or UNHCR facilities. Experts from SOS Children's Villages are also contacted for their opinion and help.
In October 2006, there was a serious incident close to the camps which caused the UNHCR to consider moving the camp to another site. According to UNHCR standards, refugee camps in Chad should be at least 50 kilometres from the border with Sudan. Biltine, covering an area of 46,850 km2, was chosen as the new location, but it is still unclear when it will be possible to move into the camp. Biltine, like Oure Cassoni, is in the middle of the desert, has a harsh climate, water is scarce and rebels are active in the area as well.