UNHCR is working with Chad and partners to ensure the children of Chadian émigrés fleeing war in neighbouring countries finally receive ID cards to start over.
GORÉ, Chad – One day three years ago, during a break at the farm where she worked, Samira Hassan took a walk to the top of a nearby hill that overlooked Bossembélé, the town she called home in the west of the Central African Republic (CAR).
As she watched, horrified, a column of troops from a rebel militia that was then at war with the country’s government attacked the town. Within minutes, dark clouds of billowing smoke shrouded Bossembélé.
Samira, 23, knew her three children were safe back at the farm. But she saw her own house overtaken by a raging fire. Later she learnt that her mother had died in the inferno. Her brother, uncle, and two cousins were murdered at a mosque during the same raid.
“Since that day, I have heard no news about my husband,” says Samira. “That was it for me, I immediately took the kids and ran to the country of my parents, Chad.”
Samira left behind the bodies of her loved ones in the ruins of her home. She also left behind vital documents that she had no idea she would need to avoid the years of uncertainty she has faced since. At the time, her only thought was to flee to safety.
Samira’s parents are from Chad, but moved to CAR for work. She was born and raised in CAR, but was never granted citizenship there. At the same time, papers that could prove her parents were Chadian – and that therefore, under their country’s nationality law, she too had acquired Chadian nationality at birth – were left in her burned-out home.
So when she and 75,000 others in her situation fleeing the conflict in CAR reached Chad, they had no way to prove who they were, or that they were entitled to citizenship of the country that now sheltered them in refugee camps around the town of Goré.
“I only realized how important it was to have identity documents when I fled to Chad,” says Samira, who only reached the country after a roundabout trek. “We had to cross to Cameroon first, then we were escorted to Goré. During this exhausting, five-week trip, we were asked many times to present our documents. We had none, it made everything more complicated.”
Chad welcomes refugees and returning Chadians alike. Samira is now one of more than 6,000 returnees who have undergone biometric registration and nationality verification under a new European Union-funded programme to support returnees and prevent statelessness.
Implemented by the local authorities in collaboration with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and its partners, the EU-funded programme is set to expand to another area in southern Chad, where a further 11,000 people like Samira are awaiting official documentation.