Chad 2004 photo gallery - transcript

This transcript accompanies the Peter Casaer, Chad 2004 photo gallery

I am Peter Casaer. I work for MSF and I was in Chad, on the border with Sudan, over the last two weeks of January to look at the situation of the refugees there and their living conditions in Tiné and Birak. Over the past couple of months, more than 100,000 refugees have crossed from the Darfur region in Sudan to Chad. They are scattered all over a 600km long strip of territory alongside the border between Tiné in the north and Adré in the southern region.

What struck me was the desperate situation and the desperate stories that people told me about living conditions inside Darfur - a region they have fled from - about the violence, the different types of violence; the killings, the rapes, about entire villages being destroyed; bombing by airplanes; attacks by militia on horses or camels - the janjaweed they call them; the killing of young men; the rape of women; the burning down of entire villages; looting of cattle. So we have horror stories being told to us by the refugees coming over into Chad into the camps where MSF is providing medical assistance.

The way they tell it, it seems as if people do not want them to ever return to their villages. It seems as if villages are destroyed and emptied on purpose to prevent an entire population from being able to return.

What we see in this picture are the people gathering to go to the mobile consultations run by MSF in this refugee camp. It is a refugee camp about two hours drive from Birak where we have a medical base. We found this camp by following the tracks of the animals and the people for hours until we reached this waddie, this dry river bed, where about 8,000 refugees have gathered.

In this picture we see a young man sitting outside the MSF hospital tent in Tiné on the Chad side just over the border from Sudan. In Tiné, MSF has set up a hospital using a number of tents. Most of the wounded have been injured by bomb shrapnel. There are different kinds of wounds - in their faces, abdomen, legs. Very often people have to walk for many days before they reach the MSF medical facilities because off the insecurity and the great distances they have to cover, which means that people often arrive with old and infected wounds that often require amputations.

Here we are at the MSF medical facilities in Birak. Birak is a little town in Chad that is completely surrounded by refugee camps - camps that are not always easy to reach. Sometimes it takes hours of travelling before you find the camps where you can reach them. MSF is the only international humanitarian organisation present in this area. In the picture we see two kids who have come from a medical consultation. In the tents we do medical consultations but we also take care of malnourished children. At the time we visited the camp, there were not that many malnourished kids - there were 3 to 5 kids if I remember well, with severe malnutrition. A little further from the camp, you have a little school for refugee kids with a Sudanese teacher giving them classes.

Here we see an old lady sitting under a tree - an old Sudanese lady who fled the Darfur region in Sudan but actually she is not alone. When we arrived there in the Tiné 3 refugee camp, she was sitting there with her entire family, well what remains of her family which is her daughter and her daughter's 7 children. They had been sitting there, the entire family, for a week without any assistance at all. There were no men. The husband of the daughter was killed by the Arab militias, the janjaweed, in Darfur.

Here we are in the MSF Tiné hospital. In this picture we see two women, elderly women, entering the tent where the female patients are staying. We often see more general medical problems like lung infections and other ailments.

Here we see a number of women waiting to have medical consultations at the MSF mobile clinic.The MSF mobile clinic comes here once a week. The people in this camp have been able to survive thanks to the solidarity of the Chadian villagers who are a few kilometers away. But with the villagers of Chad being so poor, the solidarity has its limits and the challenge for the coming weeks and months will be to get external assistance so people can count on you to survive. So far they have seen no external help, no external assistance, save for the medical assistance provided by MSF

Here we are standing at the entrance of the MSF medical clinic in Birak - again a place that is surrounded by a lot of refugee camps. What we see in the back, these trees we see, is the wadi - a dry river bed - where people and animals gather to get water. People can dig holes in the ground to find water for themselves and for their animals. You can see from the landscape that it is a very dry area. It will remain very dry for at least the next six months. So it means it is very hard for people to get access to water but also to food. MSF is providing medical assistance. Nobody, so far, is providing any food assistance to these populations.

This is Lucy - an ex-pat MSF nurse from Belgium, who is doing medical consultations in the Birak facility. She is treating a little patient here, a little boy, who was malnourished. In the Birak hospital, apart from medical consultations, we take care of malnourished children. So far we do not have too many malnourished children in our facilities but we fear that if more assistance does not come to the region soon, we might, in the coming months, see an increase in the cases of malnourishment in the refugee population.

Here we are again at the Birak hospital. We see people waiting outside the tent where we do medical consultations. This field hospital has been open since September last year and today we see about 600 patients every week.

Emily is a nurse who just arrived in Birak and here she is playing with one of her little malnourished patients. It is important that, apart from the purely medical act, we keep some time for the patient and some more human contact. Perhaps especially with these little children.

What we often see in pictures is that people look good and they are smiling. But it was amasing for me that, while there, and walking around the refugee camps and with lots of contact with these refugees and a very joyful contact, until you ask them there stories, what they went through and then you hear all the stories about the atrocities happening in their villages. In the Darfur region of Sudan, there were stories about bombardments, of Janjaweed militias entering and killing, stories about rape,looting and more. But despite this, when you meet them, they have a smile on their face quite often and it is truly an amasing thing.

When we arrived in this refugee camp a few hours outside Birak what was so amasing was, there was this huge tree standing there. What was even more amasing was the refugees had themselves constructed a hut for the MSF medical consultations under that same tree, the tree where they sit, men and omen, but separated during the day to get some shelter from the sun. It is important to know that it is so hot during the daytime. Temperatures go up to 36 or 38 degrees celsius (98 Fahrenheit) while at night temperatures drop to one or two degrees which is freezing, or nearly freezing at night and very hot during the day. This explains of course, that during the medical consultations we see so many patients with pulmonary infections and other diseases linked with the huge drops in temperature between day and night.

Petra is taking care of a young man who was very badly injured in the face when a bomb was dropped from an Antinov plane. When we visited there he was just lying there pointing his finger into the air and repeating the same word: "Avion, Avion. Avion" which means 'airplane'. He was trying to explain to us that he was injured by this bomb that was dropped from a plane.

Here again we are at a medical consultation that we saw in a previous picture where the car was parked under a huge tree. I said before that people arranged this hut for the medical consultations. They also arranged a little fence around it and had things organised in a very disciplined way.In other refugee camps, it was a big mess before we were able to start our medical consultations because everybody wanted to have medical care, they were pushing to have medical care to be sure they would be one of the people who were chosen. Here people were just waiting calmly outside the fence that they had erected themselves.