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

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Over the past month, almost 6,300 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have left the Batalimo camp in the troubled Central African Republic and returned voluntarily to their homes in Equateur province. Their decision to go back is a further sign of the gravity of the situation in Central African Republic, where escalated violence since December has left hundreds of thousands internally displaced and forced almost 350,000 to flee to neighbouring countries. The refugees at Batalimo were among some 20,000 Congolese who had fled to the Central African Republic to escape inter-ethnic conflict back home. The return operation from Batalimo had been postponed several times for security and logistical reasons, but on April 10 the first convoy headed across the Oubangui River. The last arrived in the DRC on May 10. The UN refugee agency organized transportation of the refugees from Batalimo to the Central African Republic riverside town of Zinga, where they boarded boats for the crossing to Batanga or Libenge in Equateur province. In Batanga, the returnees were registered, provided with documentation and given a cash grant to help them reintegrate. They were then transported to their villages, where they will be monitored. Photographer Leonora Baumann followed one group back to the DRC.

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2014: CAR refugees attacked as they flee to Cameroon

Each week 10,000 Muslims cross into eastern Cameroon to escape the violence consuming the Central African Republic (CAR). Many new arrivals report that they have been repeatedly attacked as they fled. The anti-Balaka militiamen have blocked main roads to Cameroon, forcing people to find alternate routes through the bush. Many are walking two to three months to reach Cameroon, arriving malnourished and bearing wounds from machetes and gunshots.

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UNHCR staff members Paul Spiegel and Michele Poletto recently travelled to eastern Cameroon and have the following photos to share from their iPhone and camera.

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