UNHCR concerned about the displaced, refugee populations in CAR

Briefing Notes, 11 January 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 11 January 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In the Central African Republic UNHCR is seeking immediate and unconditional access to tens of thousands of refugees and CAR civilians displaced by the recent fighting in the north and east of one of the poorest countries and most deprived nations. We believe that these civilians face deteriorating living conditions and that they need urgent and potentially life-saving help.

While UNHCR welcomes the one-week ceasefire announced last night during the Gabon peace talks between the CAR Government, the Seleka rebel alliance and opposition parties, we fear that many more people will be affected including some 700,000 in the capital if full-scale fighting resumes.

It is impossible to give precise figures for the number of newly displaced because of the fluid security situation and lack of access to rebel-held areas, but we have received reports of thousands of people being displaced in the north and east since the start of the Séléka advance about a month ago. About 800,000 people were believed to be living in the affected areas when the current crisis erupted.

We are extremely concerned about the general welfare of displaced civilians, many of whom live under harsh conditions and in remote settlements, as well as of refugees from countries including South Sudan, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. CAR hosts some 17,000 refugees and some 2,500 asylum-seekers. We call on all sides to respect the human rights of all civilians and to allow humanitarian access to them.

We are particularly worried about some 2,000 Sudanese refugees in the Bambari camp, in the central part of the country an area under rebel control. UNHCR is trying to re-establish contact with this refugee population. There were confirmed reports that our office there was looted on December 28 after our staff were evacuated. Another UNHCR office, in Kaga-Bandoro, has also been looted.

The current crisis in the country has also led to a small number of people fleeing to neighbouring countries. UNHCR staff have registered 286 refugees from CAR in the Nord-Oubangui region of DR Congo's Equateur province. We are also investigating reports that some refugees have arrived in southern Chad.

Meanwhile the looting of several World Food Programme warehouses in Bria, Bambari and Kaga Bandoro could cause serious delays to food distribution to refugees in Bambari, Zemio and Batalimo. UNHCR and the WFP are looking for a quick solution for resuming food aid.

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Edwige Deals With Loss by Keeping Busy and Aiding Others in Mole Camp

Edwige Kpomako is a woman in a hurry; but her energy also helps the refugee from Central African Republic (CAR) to cope with the tragedy that forced her to flee to northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last year. Before violence returned to her country in 2012, the 25-year-old was studying for a Masters in American literature in Bangui, and looking forward to the future. "I started my thesis on the works of Arthur Miller, but because of the situation in CAR . . . ," she said, her voice trailing off. Instead, she had to rush to the DRC with a younger brother, but her fiancée and 10-year old son were killed in the inter-communal violence in CAR.

After crossing the Oubangui River to the DRC, Edwige was transferred to Mole, a camp housing more than 13,000 refugees. In a bid to move on with her life and keep busy, she started to help others, assume a leadership role and take part in communal activities, including the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. She heads the women's committee, is engaged in efforts to combat sexual violence, and acts as a liaison officer at the health centre. She also teaches and runs a small business selling face creams. "I discovered that I'm not weak," said Edwige, who remains optimistic. She is sure that her country will come out of its nightmare and rebuild, and that she will one day become a human rights lawyer helping refugees.

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The earlier refugees have been able to gain some degree of self-reliance through agriculture or employment, thus making up for some of the food cuts. But the new arrivals, fleeing the latest round of violence in their homeland, are facing a much harsher reality. And many of them - particularly children - will struggle to survive because WFP has also been forced cut the supplemental feeding programmes used to treat people trying to recover from malnutrition.

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