UNHCR finds looting, empty villages on mission to Bambari in Central African Republic

Briefing Notes, 12 February 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 12 February 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A joint UNHCR-Mercy Corps assessment mission last week to Bambari in Central African Republic, some 400 kilometres north east of the capital Bangui, found wide displacement on the approach to Bambari. Villages along a 100 kilometre stretch of road between Grimari and Bambari were almost completely deserted, with most residents hiding in the bush.

This mission is the first to the region since the mid-December 2012 takeover by the Seleka rebel coalition of the major cities of the north and centre of the country, including Bambari and Kaga Bandoro (around 400 kilometres north of the capital) where UNHCR has offices.

The villagers we managed to speak to reported aggression by armed groups seeking fuel, money and food. The visits of these groups are sometimes accompanied by violence against men and women, including beatings with electric cables. A village chief reported being flogged on 3 February by rebels who were trying to get him to reveal where villagers were hiding their possessions.

Camp Pladama Ouaka, located 10 kilometres from the town of Bambari, where some 2,000 Sudanese refugees live, has not been spared. According to our colleagues, community facilities, the distribution center, and the warehouse of an NGO partner, have all been looted. Solar lamps, that were used to light the camp, have also been taken away.

In Bambari, there has also been widespread looting, including of UNHCR's own warehouse. Tarpaulins, blankets, soap, mosquito nets, mats, jerry cans, buckets, clothes, lamps and solar panels for 3,000 refugees and internally displaced people in the area have all been stolen. Offices of UN agencies, including UNHCR and international NGOs continue to be looted and ransacked.

A similar situation is reported in Kaga Bandoro. UNHCR estimates the combined loss of its aid supplies and damage to its office premises in Kaga Bandoro and Bambari at US$316,000.

Access for humanitarian work in CAR remains very limited as a result of the lack of security guarantees, for both humanitarian workers and for people in need. In this context, it remains difficult to deliver assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons, and conduct activities for their protection.

UNHCR is appealing to the government and the Seleka rebels to facilitate better access for humanitarians to populations in need. We are also calling for the cantonment of rebel groups as stipulated in the Libreville accords signed on 11 January.

Before the current crisis there were some 51,000 IDPs in CAR. More people have been displaced since and, despite security and access constraints, assessments are ongoing to find out how many they are. The country also hosts a refugee population of 17,000 mostly of Congolese origin.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In CAR, Djerassem Mbaiorem, on mobile +236 72 22 35 11
  • In Geneva, Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 34 83
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