• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Thousands of Central Africans flee to Republic of Congo to escape violence

News Stories, 20 December 2013

© UNHCR/L.Culot
Three Central African Republic refugees with their babies in Betou, Republic of Congo, after fleeing violence across the border in their village.

BETOU, Republic of Congo, December 20 (UNHCR) The sectarian violence ravaging Bangui and other parts of Central African Republic has spread south to the Lobaye prefecture, forcing thousands to flee to Republic of the Congo.

Since March 2013, when the former Seleka rebel alliance captured Bangui, some 11,000 Central African civilians have crossed the border. Most have found shelter in the small town of Betou, which lies on the Oubangui River in northern Republic of Congo's Likouala department.

Hundreds have crossed in the past two weeks as the security situation in the country continued to deteriorate with former Seleka forces clashing with Christian "Anti-Balaka" militias in Bangui, Bossangoa and elsewhere in the poverty stricken landlocked country.

Many say that the Christian and Muslim communities in Lobaye co-existed peacefully until recently. "In our village, we never witnessed sectarian hate, even after the overthrow [in March] of [President François] Bozizé," said Sylvia, who fled with friends from the village of Mbata. She said the attackers looted the village, which lies some 35 kilometres from Betou.

"We never thought that the conflict in Bangui would disturb our lives," added Bénédicte, also from Mbata. She said the situation had changed in late November, when violence erupted after a Seleka man was killed by a supporter of Bozizé in Mbata. "Before that, everything was fine, we were all living together in peace," she stressed.

Other refugees have been coming from Bolo loke and Mbaiki villages in Lobaye. Many walk for days to reach safety in this isolated and hard to access area of Republic of the Congo. Twenty-two-year-old Sylvia fled Mbata with her family and two other families and walked through the forest for six days to reach Betou.

"We lost our way on the forest paths, but we met a group of locals who took us to the village of Ngongo. They told us that UNHCR staff were there a few days before and we knew where to go for help," Sylvia told UNHCR while breastfeeding her baby girl. On the day she and her friends were taken last week from Ngongo to Betou, about 350 refugees arrived there from Central African Republic.

In Betou, about 60 per cent of the refugees live with host families while the rest are provided with shelter in the April 15 or Ikpengbele refugee camps, where they are registered and given shelter and aid by UNHCR, the World Food Programme and their partners. They have access to health care and basic education for the children.

UNHCR and its partners also organize vocational training and literacy courses for adults. Sylvia and her friend Janis never finished elementary school, Bénédicte has never been to school at all.

They will now get a chance to become literate in the French language. Meanwhile, the three young mothers are just happy to be alive, safe and together.

By Louise Culot in Betou, Republic of Congo

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Central African Republic: Urgent Appeal

You can help save the lives of thousands of refugees

Donate to this crisis

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

Joint Appeal: Help Needed for Central African RefugeesPlay video

Joint Appeal: Help Needed for Central African Refugees

The UN refugee agency and its partners appealed for more donor support to cope with the continuing outflow and deteriorating condition of refugees from the Central African Republic.
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.