Kinshasa, DR Congo, April 23 – The head of the UN’s refugee agency expressed concern Thursday at the “dangerous” situation in Chad following the shock death of its long-ruling president Idriss Deby Itno.
“There has recently been an evolution in Chad which is very dangerous,” Filippo Grandi, the UN’s high commissioner for refugees, said during a visit to the Democratic Republic of 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 told a news conference in Kinshasa.
Deby had ruled Chad for three decades before the army announced his death on Tuesday from wounds suffered while leading troops in battle against rebels.
His shock demise led to immediate concerns of a power vacuum in Chad, which is key to the West’s anti-jihadist efforts in Africa’s troubled Sahel region.
Deby’s allies have swiftly installed his son Mahamat Idriss Deby as president and head of a transitional military council.
Grandi’s comments came a day before Deby’s funeral, which will be attended by around a dozen heads of state including President Emmanuel Macron of France, the former colonial power.
Grandi said he was due to discuss “other situations which are keeping us busy and worrying us on the continent”, such as Ethiopia and Sudan, with the DRC’s President Felix Tshisekedi, who currently holds the African Union’s presidency.
He also pointed to the DRC’s huge challenges when it comes to refugees following decades of conflict.
The DRC is home to an estimated five million internally displaced people, while some 940,000 Congolese refugees are currently living in neighbouring countries.
A further 500,000 refugees from across DRC’s borders are meanwhile stuck in the country after fleeing conflicts at home, according to the UN and NGOs.
“We are talking about a million displaced people in Ituri alone,” Grandi said, in reference to one of the eastern border provinces where scores of armed groups are operating.
“These are really extremely grave situations.”
Estimates of refugee numbers given by the UN and aid groups are impossible to verify in a country that has not had a census since 1984.
Humanitarian agencies often cite upper estimates in the hope of attracting donations for aid programmes they say are woefully under-funded.
Grandi said he would continue to campaign for a three-way agreement between the DRC, the UNHCR and countries sheltering Congolese refugees, to facilitate the return of those seeking to come home.
Grandi, who is on a three-day trip to the DRC, travelled Tuesday to the country’s north, near the border with the Central African Republic, where several thousand Central Africans fled following electoral violence in December.