UNHCR fears for civilians in Central African Republic as hundreds flee to DR Congo

News Stories, 6 December 2013

© UNHCR/B.Sokol
Refugees from Central African Republic in Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some 700 crossed the Oubangui River to the Zongo area in DR Congo yesterday.

BANGUI, Central African Republic, December 6 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Friday expressed alarm at the deteriorating security situation in the Central African Republic and concern for the safety of civilians caught in the latest fighting.

More than 200 civilians are believed to have been killed after being caught in the clashes between fighters of the former Seleka rebel group and self-defence forces in the capital Bangui and the town of Bossangoa to the northwest. According to UN and media reports, at least 140 civilians were killed during fresh attacks yesterday in Bangui.

Attacks and executions of civilians in hospital and worship places were also reported across the city. This is the first major fighting in the capital since March, when Seleka forces captured Bangui and ousted the government of President Francois Bozize.

UNHCR staff in Bangui reported that the situation was very tense on Friday morning. Gunfire could be heard in the city's 8th District, preventing residents from leaving their homes. The refugee agency has also received worrying reports of sectarian and revenge attacks between neighbours throughout Bangui. A local UNHCR worker was attacked in his home last night and the assailants took away and killed his 24-year-old nephew.

Up to 1,000 people were reported to have sought shelter at Bangui's main cathedral as of Thursday night. UNHCR fears that many more people in Bangui will need to leave their homes to seek safety if the sectarian violence continues.

A growing number of people are fleeing across the Oubangui River and seeking shelter in the town of Zongo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Yesterday, close to 700 people had crossed and more were arriving this morning. Our colleagues in Zongo are verifying the number of arrivals along the river.

The newly arrived are staying in a school at Gbala, a village located 12 kilometres from Zongo. The school, a former refugee transit centre built by UNHCR, has facilities for receiving refugees.

Meanwhile in Bossangoa, heavy shelling Thursday afternoon caused panic among the residents. Although the shelling has stopped, the situation remains unpredictable and tension is high. More than 100 people are believed to have been killed during sectarian violence. A member of the Central African Community forces was killed by a stray bullet.

There are some 40,000 forcibly displaced people in Bossangoa, mostly sheltered in the compound of the Roman Catholic church there. They need support, but the dangerous security conditions are hampering aid delivery. One UNHCR convoy, carrying 60 tons of relief supplies, reached Bossangoa yesterday and its aid will be distributed soon. The aid includes tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, jerry cans, buckets and soap for some 3,000 displaced families in Bossangoa.

Since December 2012, conflict in the CAR has displaced nearly 400,000 people within the country and forced another 69,800 into exile in neighbouring countries, mostly to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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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.

American photojournalist Brian Sokol took these photos.

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

New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

Since January 2014, a funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations by 60 per cent in refugee camps in southern Chad. The reduction comes as thousands of refugees from Central African Republic (CAR) continue to arrive in the south - more than 14,000 of them since the beginning of 2014. Many arrive sick, malnourished and exhausted after walking for months in the bush with little food or water. They join some 90,000 other CAR refugees already in the south - some of them for years.

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.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

Photojournalist Corentin Fohlen and UNHCR Public Information Officer Céline Schmitt visited CAR refugees in southern Chad to document their plight and how they're trying to cope.

New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

A Central African Refugee's Reunion With Her Sons Brings Joy and Sorrow

The violence and conflict in the Central African Republic has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes since mid-December. Many have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, including 80,000 in Cameroon. During the trauma and confusion of flight, families often become separated. They face many dangers on the way to safety, and their journey can take many weeks. Ramatou, a 45-year-old mother of 11 children, was separated from three of her sons and her husband when militiamen attacked her village in January. She ran in one direction with eight children and eventually made it to Cameroon with the help of African Union peace-keepers. Her husband and three sons ran in a different direction and endured many ordeals in the bush, becoming separated again. Earlier this month, Ramatou was reunited in Cameroon's Mbile Refugee Camp with the two youngest boys. She was overjoyed, but dismayed that they were on their own. She still hopes for her husband and eldest son to turn up. Photographer Fred Noy was there at the emotional reunion.

A Central African Refugee's Reunion With Her Sons Brings Joy and Sorrow

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UNHCR's Dr. Paul Spiegel on the Border of CAR  and CameroonPlay video

UNHCR's Dr. Paul Spiegel on the Border of CAR and Cameroon

This video was shot by one of our staff* using a mobile phone as they helped refugees who had crossed the river to safety.
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