Worsening humanitarian crisis in CAR as 159,000 displaced, over 600 killed

Briefing Notes, 13 December 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 13 December 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

We are seeing a further deterioration in the situation in Central African Republic. In the capital Bangui the fighting and sectarian violence of the past week has displaced an estimated 159,000 people, with 450 killings reported there and 160 in other parts of the country according to the National Red Cross and Danish Refugee Council. These reports are mainly coming from locations in northwestern CAR.

At the airport in Bangui, there are 38,000 people, currently without latrines or washing facilities and with no shelter from the rains or sun. Conditions there and elsewhere are deteriorating.

12,000 people are currently at the Saint Joseph Mukassa church in Bangui. The church has just one water point. Local youth have dug latrines and UNHCR has provided plastic sheeting to allow some level of privacy and spaces where people can wash. However, people there urgently need food, shelter, soap and other basic aid. Among them are 460 people needing medical attention. This includes 101 pregnant women. There have been three births so far.

At the airport, UNHCR has provided tents to our partner MSF, which is running a medical clinic. Aid is also going to other relief agencies, and we are working with fellow UN agencies and NGOs to scale up humanitarian operations across CAR. So far help has reached relatively small numbers 3,500 families so far in Bangui and another 3,000 helped in Bossangoa and much more is going to be needed. We appeal once again to all parties to let humanitarian help through, and to protect civilians. There are frequent reports of indiscriminate attacks against civilians, recruitment of child soldiers, sexual and gender-based violence, looting and destruction of property.

Indicative of the current turmoil inside CAR is a rise over the last week in people fleeing to neighbouring countries. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has received close to 1,800 refugees mainly from Bangui, including 1,457 into Zongo and more than 300 in Libenge.

Those in Libenge had to walk for several days with their children to reach villages facing Libenge, from where they used boats to cross the Oubangui river. Many arrived exhausted from the 200 km walk across through forest. With the new arrivals, there are now around 47,000 CAR refugees in DRC. UNHCR is relocating the new refugees to two camps one at Mole camp (Zongo) and another at Boyabo camp (Libenge).

Republic of the Congo (ROC) is also registering new arrivals from the prefecture of Lobaye in Central African Republic. Some of the refugees told our staff that more people are on their way. Since March, over 10,500 CAR nationals have sought refuge in RoC. In all, the crisis in CAR has driven more than 70,000 into surrounding countries over the past year.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Zongo (on mission), Celine Schmitt on mobile +243 81 700 94 84
  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 34 83
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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.

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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.

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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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