Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, April 23 – The head of the UN Refugee Agency expressed concern on Thursday about the “dangerous” situation in Chad following the shock death of its long-ruling President Idriss Deby Itno.
“Recently, a very dangerous development has developed in Chad,” said Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, during a visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“Chad plays an important role in the stability of the Sahel, a region where there are significant humanitarian crises and movements (of people),” he said at a press conference in Kinshasa.
Deby had ruled Chad for three decades before the army announced on Tuesday that he had died from wounds he sustained while leading troops fighting rebels.
His death in shock raised immediate concerns about a power vacuum in Chad, which is vital to the West’s anti-jihadist efforts in troubled Sahel Africa.
The Deby allies quickly installed his son Mahamat Idriss Deby as president and head of an interim military council.
Grandi’s comments came the day before Deby’s funeral, which will be attended by a dozen or so heads of state, including President Emmanuel Macron of France, the former colonial power.
Grandi said he should discuss “other situations that preoccupy and worry us on the continent,” such as Ethiopia and Sudan, with the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, who currently holds the Presidency of the African Union .
He also pointed out the great challenges the Democratic Republic of the Congo faces when it comes to refugees after decades of conflict.
There are an estimated five million internally displaced people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while around 940,000 Congolese refugees currently live in neighboring countries.
According to the United Nations and non-governmental organizations, another 500,000 refugees from the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are stuck at home in the country after fleeing conflicts.
“We’re talking about a million displaced people in Ituri alone,” Grandi said, referring to one of the eastern border provinces where dozens of armed groups operate.
United Nations and aid group estimates of refugee numbers cannot be verified in a country that has not had a census since 1984.
Humanitarian aid agencies often cite higher estimates in hopes of soliciting donations to aid programs that they say are severely underfunded.
Grandi said he would continue to push for a three-way agreement between the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNHCR and countries hosting Congolese refugees to facilitate the return of those who want to come home.
Grandi, who is on a three-day trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, traveled to the north of the country near the border with the Central African Republic on Tuesday, where several thousand Central Africans fled at electoral violence in December.
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