The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) today called for an end to the forced conscription of Sudanese refugees in Chad, warning that the practice is further evidence of mounting insecurity along the volatile border area.“UNHCR strongly condemns the forced recruitment of Sudanese refugees from Darfur by various armed groups in some of our camps in eastern Chad, breaching the civilian character of asylum and of our camps,” agency spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva. “We call upon all parties involved to put an end to these activities in our camps.” Investigations by UNHCR teams and testimonies from refugees show that recruiting took place between Friday afternoon, 17 March, and Sunday, 19 March – a weekend, when fewer humanitarian staff are present in the camps. “Although we’re unable at this stage to give precise figures, initial assessments indicate that several hundred men were recruited,” Mr. Redmond said. While most of those targeted were aged 15 to 35, even younger boys were also conscripted, he said. Most were recruited by force, but some joined voluntarily. “This activity is further evidence of the growing insecurity that has now spread to both sides of the Chad-Sudan border – something High Commissioner António Guterres has been warning about for months,” Mr. Redmond said, noting that clashes continue to be reported in eastern Chad. In high-level meetings over the past week with Chadian authorities, UNHCR officials “strongly stressed that the civilian character of the refugee camps must be maintained at all times, and respected in all circumstances,” Mr. Redmond said. “During those meetings, we reminded the government of Chad that it is primarily responsible for ensuring the security of refugee camps on its territory.”The Government has promised to increase the deployment of gendarmes around the camps to prevent the entry of arms or armed individuals. “We also asked the government for its support in ensuring the safe return of recruited refugees,” the spokesman said. More than 200,000 refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region are in 12 UNHCR-run camps along the border in eastern Chad.
“However, if the price of such change is the sacrifice of this country’s amphibious capability, we can only conclude this to be a short-sighted, militarily illiterate manoeuvre totally at odds with strategic reality.”The committee dismissed MOD suggestions that the nation’s new aircraft carriers could take the role of the amphibious ships.HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales “are in reality no substitute for the purpose-built amphibious warships in this role,” the report concluded.Julian Lewis, defence committee chairman, said the proposal to axe HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark 15 years before they were due to leave service “demonstrates, yet again, the desperate inadequacy of the defence budget”.He said: “We must reinstate a target of around 3 per cent of GDP – the percentage which we spent right up to the mid-1990s, long after the ‘peace dividend’ cuts, at the end of the Cold War, had been made.He said that unless Mr Williamson got more money “the Royal Marines will be reduced to a level far below the critical mass needed to sustain them as a high-readiness Commando force”. The report concludes: “The world is changing and the Royal Navy and Royal Marines need to change with it. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. HMS Bulwark in 2015 conducted rescue missions of migrants crossing the MediterraneanCredit: ET WE(CIS) LOUISE GEORGE/MOD But a series of former senior officers told the MPs that cutting the ships would leave Britain unable to mount a major amphibious landing.While Theresa May and Gavin Williamson both rejected the proposals just before Christmas, MPs say that unless the Defence Secretary can secure more funding, the Marines remain at risk.Mr Williamson has launched a new defence review, but has continued to stress the need to find savings and efficiencies in the MOD budgets. Proposals to shrink the Royal Marines and axe amphibious ships in defence cost-cutting would be “militarily illiterate” and “totally at odds with strategic reality” MPs have warned.A report from the Commons defence committee says following through with leaked suggestions to dramatically cut amphibious forces would “significantly undermine” Britain’s security.The report also criticises the conduct of a Whitehall national security review saying it failed to consult experts and was carried out without any Parliamentary scrutiny.The National Security Capability Review begun last summer led to proposals to cut up to 2,000 Royal Marines as part of attempts to fill a £20bn budget black hole over the next decade.Suggested cuts also included the retirement of amphibious ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, as part of wide ranging reductions to all three services. Yet, while every major defence power was seeking to increase their amphibious forces, Britain “may be forced prematurely to abandon them”.Johnny Mercer MP, a former officer in 29 Commando, said: “This report puts into sharp focus the folly of removing from this nation’s military capabilities the amphibious fleet, and reducing the Royal Marines.“In an area where every single other credible tier one military nation is expanding their Amphibious Forces, we cannot afford to be heading in the other direction, shrinking to the ‘little Britain’ so many of our foes would like to see.” The committee said global trends such as the spread of cities along the world’s coastlines meant there was an ongoing need for amphibious operations.