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




UNHCR country pages

Central African Republic: Urgent Appeal

You can help save the lives of thousands of refugees

Donate to this crisis


Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

The High Commissioner

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

Internally Displaced People

The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

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

Myanmar IDPs pick up the pieces in Rakhine state

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding across Myanmar's Rakhine state, where some 115,000 people are desperately in need of aid after being displaced during two waves of inter-communal violence in June and October 2012. The displaced, most of them ethnic Rohingya, have sought shelter in temporary relief camps and others remain scattered across the state, living under tight security in their destroyed villages. Conditions are harsh: the camps are overcrowded and some lack even the most basic of sanitation facilities while many of the villages are totally destroyed and running low on water. In one village, more than 32 families were living cheek-by-jowl in just two large tents. The children have no access to education and the newborn and elderly are in a very vulnerable position due to a lack of medical facilities. UNHCR is distributing relief supplies and working with the authorities and partners to improve camp conditions, but international assistance is required.

Myanmar IDPs pick up the pieces in Rakhine state

Joint Appeal: Help Needed for Central African RefugeesPlay video

Joint Appeal: Help Needed for Central African Refugees

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.
Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat campPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat camp

Concluding a visit to Iraq, UNHCR chief António Guterres met with Syrian refugees in Arbat camp in the Kurdistan region. Guterres noted the recent proliferation of humanitarian crises, but urged the international community not to forget about Syria, "the mega protracted crisis of our times."
Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced IraqisPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced Iraqis

This week UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is visiting Iraq to meet with families displaced by conflict in recent weeks. After listening to accounts of their difficult journeys to safety, Guterres called for more support to help deal with the crisis. He will also visit some of the 300,000 Syrian refugees currently living in camps in northern Iraq.