UNHCR reaches Sudanese refugees in remote region of Central African Republic
UNHCR has met with some 3,500 refugees in the northern district of Birao and plans to organize an aid distribution. But it needs guarantees for safe humanitarian access.
GENEVA, May 31 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has established contact with some 3,500 Sudanese refugees who made their way to north-east Central African Republic after fleeing inter-tribal conflict in Sudan's Darfur region two months ago.
Refugees are presently scattered in the Birao, Boromata and Roukoutou districts, which are difficult to access. UNHCR staff in Central African Republic were finally able to meet some of the refugees in Birao on May 23.
The refugees said their villages in Am Djeradil district had been torched during the clashes in March and many people killed. Some families were also separated during the confusion, with hundreds heading to Central African Republic (CAR) and thousands of others crossing the border into south-east Chad, where they have received help from UNHCR.
Staff from UNHCR who went to Birao said the new arrivals were living in extremely precarious conditions. Most were living in the open under trees. Health and sanitation were a concern in an area with few health services available. They are at great risk of catching waterborne diseases because they were drinking water from a contaminated well.
The refugees are almost totally dependent on the local community and many of them have been given agricultural work, tending crops and harvesting bamboo for sale in the market.
UNHCR plans to assist the refugees, but security remains an issue. The refugee agency and the World Food Programme are planning distributions of food (for three months) and non-food aid.
Within CAR, the situation remains unstable following the capture of the capital, Bangui, by opposition Seleka forces in March. Humanitarian access to those in need, including more than 200,000 internally displaced people, remains very difficult. The prevailing security situation has badly impacted UNHCR's operations in the country.
Before this latest influx, CAR hosted a refugee population of 17,000 mostly Congolese refugees.