UNHCR coordinates aid to 26,000 Central African Republic refugees

News Stories, 7 August 2007

© UNHCR

GENEVA, 7 August (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency announced it is coordinating an operation on Wednesday to bring help to some 26,000 refugees who fled insecurity in the Central African Republic and are now living in precarious conditions scattered along the eastern border of Cameroon.

The refugees, from western and north-west CAR, are mainly Mbororo nomadic cattle herders who arrived in waves since 2005 in the east and Adamaoua areas of Cameroon. They fled their villages because of insecurity and relentless targeting by rebel groups and bandits who steal their cattle and kidnap women and children for ransom.

"Most of the Mbororos crossed the border on foot carrying their few remaining possessions," said UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis. "A small number managed to save their cattle, others lost everything. The last recorded arrivals were in February this year."

UNHCR is coordinating the relief operation, which includes the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF and UNFPA. There are a number of logistical challenges in getting aid to the refugees, who are in more than 50 sites spread over thousands of square kilometres along the border with CAR in the departments of Mbéré (in Adamaoua), Lom and Djerem and Kadei.

"The imminent start of the rainy season may also hamper the delivery of relief supplies, and there are security concerns over banditry," Pagonis said.

UNHCR is sending more than 200 tonnes of basic supplies such as blankets, plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, hygiene supplies and medicines to the refugees. The refugees, particularly women and children, are in a vulnerable condition with some 15-18 percent of infants malnourished and suffering an infant mortality rate six to seven times higher than the emergency threshold in other areas.

Along with our operational partner, CARE Canada, UNHCR is supplying medicines to 32 health centres in the regions where the refugees are living. WFP is positioning 2,997 tonnes of food rations in its warehouses to supply the basic food needs of the refugees for six months. UNICEF is supplying needs for children suffering malnutrition.

Cameroonian Ministry of Health teams will work with the agencies on distribution and carry out an urgent vaccination campaign for children up to 15 years old. UNFPA will be helping women and young girls with problems related to reproductive health and maternal mortality.

In March, UNHCR opened a new field office in the eastern Cameroon town of Bertoua, some 400 km east of the country's capital, Yaoundé, to start assisting the Mbororos. We have taken part in a number of joint assessment missions with the government and other UN agencies to Adamaoua province and other areas bordering CAR.

The government of Cameroon, in line with its national refugee law adopted in July 2005 and the 1969 OAU Convention, has recognized this population as prima facie refugees.

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Crisis in the Central African Republic

Little has been reported about the humanitarian crisis in the northern part of the Central African Republic (CAR), where at least 295,000 people have been forced out of their homes since mid-2005. An estimated 197,000 are internally displaced, while 98,000 have fled to Chad, Cameroon or Sudan. They are the victims of fighting between rebel groups and government forces.

Many of the internally displaced live in the bush close to their villages. They build shelters from hay, grow vegetables and even start bush schools for their children. But access to clean water and health care remains a huge problem. Many children suffer from diarrhoea and malaria but their parents are too scared to take them to hospitals or clinics for treatment.

Cattle herders in northern CAR are menaced by the zaraguina, bandits who kidnap children for ransom. The villagers must sell off their livestock to pay.

Posted on 21 February 2008

Crisis in the Central African Republic

Silent Success

Despite being chased from their homes in the Central African Republic and losing their livelihoods, Mbororo refugees have survived by embracing a new way of life in neighbouring Cameroon.

The Mbororo, a tribe of nomadic cattle herders from Central African Republic, started fleeing their villages in waves in 2005, citing insecurity as well as relentless targeting by rebel groups and bandits who steal their cattle and kidnap women and children for ransom.

They arrived in the East and Adamaoua provinces of Cameroon with nothing. Though impoverished, the host community welcomed the new arrivals and shared their scant resources. Despite this generosity, many refugees died of starvation or untreated illness.

Help arrived in 2007, when UNHCR and partner agencies began registering refugees, distributing food, digging and rehabilitating wells as well as building and supplying medical clinics and schools, which benefit refugees and the local community and promote harmony between them. The Mbororo were eager to learn a new trade and set up farming cooperatives. Though success didn't come immediately, many now make a living from their crops.

Mbororo refugees continue to arrive in Central African Republic - an average of 50 per month. The long-term goal is to increase refugees' self-reliance and reduce their dependency on humanitarian aid.

Silent Success

Shared Experience Binds Hosts and Refugees Across the Oubangui River

The Oubangui River is a vital source of food and water for the hundreds of thousands living along its 1,000-kilometre-long course, and many rely on it for transport, trade and agriculture. The river, forming the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with Central African Republic and Republic of Congo, has also been a life-saving bridge to safety for people fleeing the waves of violence that plague this deprived region - and a route back home when peace returns. This year, more than 40,000 terrified people have fled conflict in Central African Republic and crossed the river to find shelter in DRC's Equateur and Oriental provinces. Here they have received a warm welcome from the local people, many of whom know exactly what it is like to be a refugee. Time and again, newly arrived refugees from CAR seek out people they once hosted in Bangui and other places along the river. And these old friends are offering them and their families places in already cramped homes, and sharing their meagre resources. Photographer Brian Sokol recently travelled to Equateur province to document the extraordinary bond between the refugees and host communities. These are some of his striking portraits of hosts and their guests. They know that one day their roles could be reversed by the ebb and flow of violence.

Shared Experience Binds Hosts and Refugees Across the Oubangui River

Cameroon: A Young Victim of ViolencePlay video

Cameroon: A Young Victim of Violence

Militia attacks on civilians in Central African Republic have left many people, including children, dead or badly injured. Six-year-old Ibrahim is recovering from one such attack, lucky to be alive.
Cameroon:  Malnourished ChildrenPlay video

Cameroon: Malnourished Children

Some 80,000 people from Central African Republic have fled to Cameroon this year, many of them after walking for weeks or months through the bush with almost no food and water. Many of the children have severe malnutrition. UNHCR and its partners are rushing to help them.
UNHCR's Dr. Paul Spiegel on the Border of CAR  and CameroonPlay video

UNHCR's Dr. Paul Spiegel on the Border of CAR and Cameroon

This video was shot by one of our staff* using a mobile phone as they helped refugees who had crossed the river to safety.