UNHCR deploys additional emergency teams in Central African Republic

Briefing Notes, 17 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 17 December 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is sending additional protection and other teams to Central African Republic in view of the deteriorating situation there and reports of new displacement. Staff have begun arriving this week and more are on their way.

Bangui

In Bangui, our staff are reporting continued shooting and a mood of wide fear. Yesterday, the outskirts of Bangui, we came across some 40,000 people who had been uprooted on the 5th and 6th of December but who had been out of reach till now because of heavy fighting. In Bangui alone, we now believe that some 210,000 people have been displaced just in the last two weeks.

Amid the insecurity and food shortages many women and children from Bangui have fled across the Oubangui River to seek refuge in Zongo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although the border is officially closed, 1,815 people managed to cross into Zongo over the weekend, bringing to 3,292 the total number of CAR refugees to have arrived there since December 5th.

Many of the new arrivals report witnessing atrocities. They have also told us that displaced people camping at Bangui airport are planning to join them in Zongo. At Bangui airport, we have had to temporarily suspend aid distribution because of security incidents, some of which are related to sectarian violence.

Bossangoa and further north

In Bossangoa, 400 km northwest of Bangui, anti-Balaka groups looted shops and burned houses in the northern part of the town over the weekend. The area is largely populated by Muslims.

Some 5,600 people have become displaced since renewed fighting started between former Seleka fighters and armed anti-Balaka groups almost a fortnight ago. The newly displaced have joined the more than 4,000 already staying on the premises of the overcrowded Liberté school.

We continue to hear of attacks against Christians by former Seleka, with looting, killing and houses being set on fire. As well as at the school, since September 40,000 people have found sanctuary inside Bossangoa's sprawling Roman Catholic church. Tensions are reported at the church between the regional Africa force known as FOMAC and anti-Balaka youth who are resisting disarmament. The youth are armed with agricultural tools and machetes but have refused to surrender them.

UNHCR is extremely concerned by the presence of armed elements within sites hosting displaced people. We have requested French troops supported by FOMAC to step up patrols in troubled neighbourhoods and in the makeshift sites.

Anti-Balaka groups are reported to be threatening further attacks against ex-Seleka forces unless they disarm in and around the city of Paoua, located 131 kilometres from Bossangoa and near the Chadian border.

In Beboura, 30 km northeast of Paoua, ex-Seleka reportedly clashed with an armed group calling itself Groupe de Revendication pour la Paix (GRP). Hundreds of civilians have gone hiding into the bushes, while others have left their cars and motorbikes at the FOMAC base for fear of seeing them looted.

More than 710, 000 people have been uprooted within CAR since the current crisis began a year ago, while over 75,000 others have fled into exile.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 3483
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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.

UNHCR and its partners have established additional mobile clinics at entry points to provide emergency care as refugees arrive. The UN refugee agency is also supporting public health centres that have been overwhelmed by the number of refugees and their condition.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has relocated some 20,000 refugees who had been living in the open in the Garoua Bouai and Kenzou border areas, bringing them to new sites at Lolo, Mborguene, Gado and Borgop in the East and Adamwa regions.

Since the beginning of the year, Cameroon has received nearly 70,000 refugees from CAR, adding to the 92,000 who fled in earlier waves since 2004 to escape rebel groups and bandits in the north of their country.

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.

2014: CAR refugees attacked as they flee to Cameroon

Central African Republic: Crossing the Oubangui to Home and Safety

The escalating violence in Central African Republic (CAR) has caught everyone in its web, including refugees from countries such as Chad, Cameroon and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). For the Congolese living in places like the CAR capital, Bangui, or the town of Batalimo, home was just a short trip away across the Oubangui River. UNHCR earlier this year agreed to help those who wished to repatriate due to fear for their safety. The refugee agency has since mid-January facilitated the return home of hundreds of these refugees. The following photographs, taken earlier this month by UNHCR staff members Dalia Al Achi and Hugo Reichenberger, depict the repatriation of a group of 364 Congolese. The refugees portrayed were heading to the riverside town of Zongo in Democratic Republic of the Congo's Equateur province, where they spent a night in a transit centre before continuing to their hometowns. They were relieved to be leaving, and some were in poor health. The decision to return to the country they had fled during the years of civil war from 1996-2003 was not easy. Some 6,000 of the 17,000 Congolese refugees in Central African Republic have registered with UNHCR to go home.

Central African Republic: Crossing the Oubangui to Home and Safety

The Most Important Thing: Central African Republic Refugees

Over the past year, the UN refugee agency has run a series of photosets on its website by American photographer Brian Sokol focusing on the possessions that refugees take with them when they are forced to flee from their homes. We started last August with Sudanese refugees in South Sudan and have since covered refugees from Syria and Mali.

Last year, Sokol visited the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to ask refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) the same question: What is the most important thing you brought with you? He again received interesting answers from a wide range of people from rural and urban areas of CAR, where inter-communal violence has spiralled out of control. They are featured here and include a sandal that helped an old woman, a pair of crutches used by a man to reach safety and a boy's photo of his slain father. Another boy named the family members who escaped to safety with him as his most important possession - many would feel the same.

Tens of thousands of people have fled from CAR to neighbouring countries since December 2012, including 60,000 into northern DRC. Some 30,000 of them live in four refugee camps set up by UNHCR and the others are hosted by local families. For the majority, there was no time to pack before escaping. They fled extreme violence and chaos and arrived exhausted and traumatized in the DRC. They could take only the most essential and lightest belongings. The photos here were taken at Batanga Transit Centre, Boyabo Refugee Camp and Libenge village.

The Most Important Thing: Central African Republic Refugees

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.
Central African Republic: Torn CommunitiesPlay video

Central African Republic: Torn Communities

For more than a year, inter-communal strife has displaced tens of thousands of people in the Central African Republic. But amid the violence, efforts are being made to promote reconciliation.
Central African Republic : Bangui Airport RefugePlay video

Central African Republic : Bangui Airport Refuge

UNHCR's High Commissioner António Guterres visits Central African Republic and meets internally displaced people in Bangui airport. He says the international community needs to give the CAR crisis the same focus as the emergencies in Syria and South Sudan.