The fighting that broke out recently in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, left at least 100 people dead and 700 wounded. The intensive battle between government forces of Chad and rebels, who are trying to overthrow President Idriss Deby, was carried out near the presidential palace. The United Nations estimates that 30,000 Chadian refugees have fled to neighboring Cameroon amid this political turmoil. Aid agencies estimate the number of casualties and refugees will continue to rise.

For the majority of Chadians, the recent clash represents just another cycle of violence between small political factions struggling for power. They remember current President Deby himself seized power in 1990 in the same fashion as rebels are fighting today. Thus, political change is mainly relevant for political ruling classes. Civilians are the victims who have been trapped into constant struggle with poverty, disease, hunger and political instability in neighboring Sudan as well as in the Central African Republic. Chad is shelter to over 240,000 refugees from Darfur and 45,000 refugees from the Central African Republic located in the Gore area of southern Chad.

In fear of losing the tight grip of power, President Deby has called on the French government for military and logistical support to fight the rebels. France’s largest military base in the African continent is located in Chad. The liberal French democracy has been criticized for supporting the illegitimate and corrupt government of President Deby. The paradox of geopolitical calculations between liberal democracies such as France and Deby’s government is not likely to contribute to long-term stability and peace in the region.

Recent fighting has delayed the deployment of a European Union peacekeeping mission to protect Darfur refugees on the eastern border of Chad. Critics argue the EU mission will also secure Deby’s hold to power and “President Deby will reward EU and France with favorable oil deals” in return for the favor. Hence, establishment of a democratic government seems unlikely in the near future.

In spite of the tense political situation in N’Djamena and northern part of Chad, human rights activists are more determined than ever to push through with their projects to reach those who are the most vulnerable and powerless – the refugees.

“The fighting in the north has made a bad situation worse,” Bill Felstiner, the president of Chad Relief Foundation said. “But we are more determined than ever to carry on with our planned projects in the south.”

Chad Relief Foundation is a group of Santa Barbara citizens who are focusing on forgotten refuges in southern Chad. They have fled from the Central African Republic to escape the vicious civil war, only to find sanctuary in camps in the Gore area in southern Chad. Many of these refugees suffer from respiratory diseases, HIV/AIDS, diarrhea, malaria and starvation, “They have enough food to stay alive, but not enough to conquer hunger.”

“These are forgotten refugees for whom there is no media attention [or] celebrity presence of geopolitical significance.” The Chad Relief Foundation demonstrates how concerned rich citizens can make a difference in the most troubled corners of the world. Their first project will provide wheelchairs for more than 80 crippled people in the camps and surrounding area. Another project will include a well and a latrine at a border crossing between the Central African Republic and southern Chad. They also plan to provide disaster training and counseling, as well as provide rechargeable solar flashlights for each of the 8,000 families in the camps, basic school and recreational materials and a dormitory to enable refugee children to continue their education. “We must get involved in development as well as relief projects,” says Catherine Swysen, the vice president of Chad Relief Foundation.

The graduate students in Global and International Studies at UCSB, inspired by the CRF’s efforts have also joined forces to help refuges in southern Chad. They have established the Student Association in Support of Chad Refugees at UCSB. From Feb. 21 to 28, they will organize a series of events to educate and raise awareness about refugees on campus. On Monday, Feb. 25, members from S.T.A.N.D. – a student anti-genocide group – and Students in Support of Chad Refugees will be giving a presentation on the global refugee crisis. We invite all students who are concerned and want to educate themselves about refugees to attend our presentation from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Multicultural Center.