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Chad is struggling to accommodate the over 400,000 refugees from Sudan


The United Nations Human Rights Council expects the number of refugees crossing into Chad from Sudan to reach roughly 600,000 by the end of the year. That's after more than 400,000 people have already fled the renewed violence in Sudan since April. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has traveled to Chad this week to visit a makeshift refugee camp that's near the country's border with Sudan. Nearly 200,000 people live in that camp near the town of Adre, but food and medical supplies are low.

Our colleague and Morning Edition co-host Michel Martin traveled with the U.S.-U.N. ambassador and joins us now from Cabo Verde. Michel, thanks so much for being with us.

MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Scott, thanks for having us.

SIMON: What have you seen?

MARTIN: Scott, I've been trying to describe the scale of this for people, and we're talking about these very makeshift shelters as far as the eye can see. You're talking about, you know, maybe a scarf thrown over a bunch of twigs to create a little bit of shelter from the sun. You're talking about, like, plastic sheeting, you know, tarps, whatever. And even as we were at the border - we walked to the border, we saw people coming across with horse-drawn carts or donkey-drawn carts or even on foot - very few people had cars - you know, piled high with whatever they could carry - and, of course, along with their family members. So it's just a very distressing scene.

And I asked Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield - I mean, obviously, you know, she's been a career diplomat. She's been all over the world. She spent quite a few years in Africa. She's seen sort of these kinds of mass exoduses before. And I asked her what stood out for her, and this is what she said.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It was the lack of hope, the fear that people express to me as I spoke to them about why they were crossing the border - seeing children in the hospital who were malnourished and seeing the amazing but desperate work that was being done by U.N. and NGO humanitarian workers to save lives. It was extraordinarily emotional, and it was extraordinarily sad, but it was also hopeful in the sense that these people were being welcomed with open arms by the Chadian people.

SIMON: Michel, by all accounts, Chad is one of the poorest countries in the world. So it's extraordinary to hear from the ambassador how the people of Chad have been very welcoming. You've seen this, too?

MARTIN: Yes, it was remarkable. And the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, is also here touring the settlement. And I asked him this question. I - 'cause I said it is noteworthy given how much hostility that refugees have faced in other parts of the world. And I asked him why he thought that the situation seemed to be so different here, and this is what he said.

FILIPPO GRANDI: Certainly, there is a tradition here, and I heard them say many times, for example, we've been refugees ourselves. This should never be underestimated. In Africa, this is unfortunately frequent. You have people in government that were refugees, so they're sensitive to that and understand what it means to be pushed back, which, maybe in other countries, including rich countries, is not always clear or conscious.

MARTIN: Scott, I do want to mention that the people in Chad - and we had the opportunity to spend some time there. We also heard from local journalists there who came to, you know, interview the ambassador, Filippo Grandi. And one of the things that they said is, yes, this is true that we are welcoming these refugees, but we need help. And they are hoping that the international community will support not just the immediate relief for the refugees, but also some development strategies that will help Chad and the people here sustain themselves in the long run because nobody here seems to think that this situation is going to end anytime soon.

SIMON: What more can the U.S. and international community do with, I gather, no resolution in sight to end the fighting there?

MARTIN: Well, while we were here, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield announced a number of measures. She announced that the United States will be donating even more aid than they have been. I mean, the United States is already the largest donor to relief efforts here. She announced additional aid. She also announced sanctions against a key individual who's involved in the fighting and visa restrictions on another individual who's involved in the fighting. But part of the purpose of this trip by her, by Filippo Grandi - and also there's a World Bank executive, we understand, is on the ground - to encourage people to think more long term about development in these regions and to think about addressing some of the factors that lead people to have to leave their homes to begin with.

But the message here was the fighting has to stop. I mean, that is the immediate cause of this mass exodus. And also, the ambassador said that, you know, the U.N. General Assembly meeting is starting in New York. She will be heading there next. And she is hoping to draw more attention to this at the Security Council and hopes that other world leaders will put more pressure on the parties involved in the fighting to get them to come to some agreement.

SIMON: Our colleague Michel Martin, Morning Edition co-host. Thank you so much for being with us.

MARTIN: Thank you so much, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAURA VEIRS SONG, "SILO SONG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.