UNHCR chief visits Central African Republic, pledges support for the forcibly displaced

News Stories, 10 March 2010

© UNHCR/D.Mbaiorem
High Commissioner Guterres addresses refugees in Sam Ouandja camp.

BANGUI, Central African Republic, March 10 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has visited refugees and internally displaced people in the Central African Republic and pledged to help improve living conditions for them and their families.

Guterres flew back to Geneva in Switzerland on Wednesday after spending four days in the landlocked African nation in a bid to draw global attention to the plight of more than 30,000 refugees and some 183,000 internally displaced people (IDP) that UNHCR is helping to protect and assist there. The refugees are mostly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Rwanda and the Sudan

On Saturday, Guterres visited IDPs in the north-western towns of Paoua and Kabo, some 500 kilometres from the capital, Bangui. Representatives of the displaced communities cited shelter, clean water and seeds for cultivation as being among their most pressing needs.

"We lost everything when we fled and our villages are in ruins. We need your help to rebuild our houses," Koure Marie told the High Commissioner in Paoua. She was speaking on behalf of women who, like herself, had returned to their destroyed villages for the first time since fleeing violence five years ago. They had been living in the bushes or sheltering across the border in southern Chad.

After a tour of the damaged villages, Guterres said he was shocked at the appalling conditions that the displaced populations were living in, especially the lack of clean water, schools and health care. "We have limited resources, but we promise to help you restart your lives," he said.

Northern CAR has been plagued by chronic insecurity since 2005, due to the presence of rebels and bandits. The civilians in the region have been harassed by these armed groups. However, despite its instability, the north has also been a place of asylum for refugees from the Darfur region in neighbouring Sudan.

They are living in the Sam Ouandja camp, where they fear for their safety. The High Commissioner visited Sam Ouandja on Sunday. "Rebels constantly threaten us and they don't want to see us step outside our camp. They falsely accuse us refugees of being the cause of trouble in Sam Ouandja," a camp leader, Moussa, complained to Guterres.

"We have to sell our food to pay fines that rebels impose on us for crimes we did not commit," claimed Hawa, another Darfurian refugee. "We have nothing left to eat. We want to go far away from this place," she told Guterres, who assured the refugees that UNHCR would work with the government of the Central African Republic to reinforce their security.

Established in 2007, Sam Ouandja hosts some 3,500 refugees, who fled from violence in Darfur. Most had to walk or go by donkey. Fatma, one of the camp residents, said she fled her village in 2007 when it came under attack. "I grabbed my two children and ran away. We walked for 10 days before we found ourselves here in the Central African Republic," she said, adding: "My husband and our eldest son fled in another direction. I have not heard from them since."

Guterres said the international community had a duty to help the Central African Republic deal with the humanitarian crisis facing refugees and IDPs. "It is unfair that all the attention is focused on Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan when tens of thousands of civilians are living in dreadful conditions in Central African Republic," he said.

The High Commissioner also met President François Bozizé and other senior government and UN officials in Bangui before flying out of the capital on Tuesday.

By Djerassem Mbaiorem in Bangui, Central African Republic

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António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

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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

Central African Republic: Crossing the Oubangui to Home and Safety

The escalating violence in Central African Republic (CAR) has caught everyone in its web, including refugees from countries such as Chad, Cameroon and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). For the Congolese living in places like the CAR capital, Bangui, or the town of Batalimo, home was just a short trip away across the Oubangui River. UNHCR earlier this year agreed to help those who wished to repatriate due to fear for their safety. The refugee agency has since mid-January facilitated the return home of hundreds of these refugees. The following photographs, taken earlier this month by UNHCR staff members Dalia Al Achi and Hugo Reichenberger, depict the repatriation of a group of 364 Congolese. The refugees portrayed were heading to the riverside town of Zongo in Democratic Republic of the Congo's Equateur province, where they spent a night in a transit centre before continuing to their hometowns. They were relieved to be leaving, and some were in poor health. The decision to return to the country they had fled during the years of civil war from 1996-2003 was not easy. Some 6,000 of the 17,000 Congolese refugees in Central African Republic have registered with UNHCR to go home.

Central African Republic: Crossing the Oubangui to Home and Safety

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The UN refugee agency and its partners appealed for more donor support to cope with the continuing outflow and deteriorating condition of refugees from the Central African Republic.