Looting, empty villages found in rebel-controlled region of Central African Republic

News Stories, 12 February 2013

© UNHCR/J.C.Ndanga
The UNHCR warehouse in Bambari in the Central African Republic was looted by armed men who have also intimated villagers in the area. The warehouse contained relief supplies for refugees and internally displaced people.

GENEVA, February 12 (UNHCR) A humanitarian assessment mission to an area of the Central African Republic seized by a rebel coalition in December has found abandoned villages and evidence of widespread looting.

The joint mission by UNHCR and Mercy Corps was made last week to Bambari, some 400 kilometres to the north east of the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), Bangui. It discovered a swathe of villages along a 100 kilometre stretch of road between Grimari and Bambari that were almost completely deserted, with most residents hiding in the bush.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva Tuesday, UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said the mission was the first to the region since the Seleka rebel coalition took control of major cities in northern and central CAR in mid-December.

Villagers in the area told UNHCR staff that they had been subjected to violence and intimidation by armed groups in search of fuel, money and food. A village chief reported that he had been flogged earlier this month by men who were trying to get him to reveal where villagers were hiding their possessions.

Camp Pladama Ouaka, located ten kilometers from the town of Bambari, and home to some 2,000 Sudanese refugees, was also targeted, Edwards said. Community facilities, a distribution center, and the warehouse of a partner organization had all been looted.

UN offices in Bambari, including those of UNHCR and international non-governmental organizations, continue to be looted and ransacked. Humanitarian relief items, such as tarpaulins, blankets and mosquito nets, which the UN refugee was to distribute to refugees and internally displaced persons in the area, were among the stolen items.

A similar situation is emerging in the town of Kaga Bandoro. UNHCR estimates the cost of it lost aid supplies and damage to it premises in Kaga Bandoro and Bambari at more than US$ 300 thousand.

"Access for humanitarian workers to those in need in CAR remains very limited as a result of the lack of security guarantees,'' Edwards told reports. "In this context, it remains difficult to deliver assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons, or to conduct activities for their protection."

UNHCR is appealing to the government and the Seleka rebels to facilitate humanitarian access to populations in need, Edwards added.

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.

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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

Shared Experience Binds Hosts and Refugees Across the Oubangui River

The Oubangui River is a vital source of food and water for the hundreds of thousands living along its 1,000-kilometre-long course, and many rely on it for transport, trade and agriculture. The river, forming the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with Central African Republic and Republic of Congo, has also been a life-saving bridge to safety for people fleeing the waves of violence that plague this deprived region - and a route back home when peace returns. This year, more than 40,000 terrified people have fled conflict in Central African Republic and crossed the river to find shelter in DRC's Equateur and Oriental provinces. Here they have received a warm welcome from the local people, many of whom know exactly what it is like to be a refugee. Time and again, newly arrived refugees from CAR seek out people they once hosted in Bangui and other places along the river. And these old friends are offering them and their families places in already cramped homes, and sharing their meagre resources. Photographer Brian Sokol recently travelled to Equateur province to document the extraordinary bond between the refugees and host communities. These are some of his striking portraits of hosts and their guests. They know that one day their roles could be reversed by the ebb and flow of violence.

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