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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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.

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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

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