Insecurity hampers relief efforts as over 935,000 remain displaced in the Central African Republic

Briefing Notes, 3 January 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 3 January 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) remains dire, as insecurity is making the delivery of humanitarian relief ever more difficult and as the number of people displaced within the country has now surpassed 935,000.

Targeted attacks against civilians, looting and the presence of armed elements at some displacement sites have severely limited humanitarian agencies' access to those in need of urgent assistance.

Our staff report that people are hiding in the bush, fearing fresh attacks. The deteriorating situation, coupled with the long distances between IDP sites outside Bangui and poor road infrastructure, makes it increasingly difficult for UNHCR to reach people displaced by the conflict.

Some 512,672 people are currently sheltering in 67 sites in the capital, Bangui, or living with host families. This represents more than half of Bangui's total population. Some 60 per cent of those displaced are children.

Access to 45,367 internally displaced people (IDPs) living with host families in Bangui, is very difficult under the current circumstances and makes it difficult for us to assess their needs and provide assistance. In the last week, the number of IDPs arriving at the airport has almost doubled; there are now some 100,000 people there. Distribution of shelter material and other relief items has become more challenging and it is difficult to put a distribution system in place. Humanitarian agencies are working on a rapid 30-day interagency response for people displaced at this site.

Continued clashes in Bossangoa, 300 km north of Bangui, have also led to an increase in the IDP population at two nearby sites known as Archbishop and Ecole Liberté.

Improved security is essential for humanitarian workers to reach the displaced and provide vital humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands who desperately need our assistance. More troops and effective operational coordination is needed for MISCA (the African Union peacekeeping force), which may reach 6,000 soldiers with the arrival of Congolese and Rwandan troops.

Despite these challenges, UNHCR and its partners continue to distribute relief items at sites where access is possible. Since December 5, our supplies have reached about 23,000 people from over 4,600 households. In CAR, UNHCR leads the interagency clusters for protection, shelter and non-food items, and camp coordination and camp management.

We are scaling-up our presence in CAR with the arrival of our emergency teams. Fifteen additional UNHCR staff have arrived since 14 December. In addition, we hope to expand our presence in the field by establishing a sub-office in Bossangoa and two field units in the coming weeks. These are in addition to Kaga-Bandoro, Paoua,, Bambari and Zemio, which are already operational.

Since last Sunday, UNHCR has been organizing airlifts of relief items, vehicles and office equipment from its regional warehouses in Nairobi, Accra, Dubai and Douala. Three planes have arrived so far this week, with three more due to land this weekend. In all, 205,871 metric tonnes of assistance will be flown in enough for 75,000 individuals or 15,000 families. Airlifted items include tents, blankets, plastic sheets and other supplies.

Since March last year, some 75,000 refugees have fled CAR to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Republic of Congo, Chad and Cameroon bringing the global number of refugees from CAR to some 240,000 by end of December.

Renewed violence has also forced several countries to repatriate their nationals. Thousands of Chadians have already been evacuated. Cameroon also flew home several hundred of its citizens last week. Senegal and Niger, meanwhile, have asked the International Organization for Migration (IOM) for help repatriating their nationals. In addition, several hundred nationals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo have expressed their desire to return as well. UNHCR is working with IOM to identify refugees and asylum-seekers who wish to return home.

An interagency humanitarian plan for CAR was announced on December 24, 2013. This 100-day plan will allow for immediate and rapid provision of protection and life-saving assistance to people in need of urgent care. US$152.2 million is requested for the next 100 days.

UNHCR is currently protecting and assisting 20,336 refugees in CAR. Refugees in Bambari, Zémio and Batalimo camps (mainly Congolese, Sudanese and Chadians) who are receiving tents, blankets and other relief items and basic services. While the situation in the country remains tense, no incidents involving refugees have been reported yet. However, many live in fear of an attack.

We are also assisting those refugees who wish to repatriate to their country.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Bangui, Bernard Ntwari on mobile +236 72 675186
  • In Geneva, Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106
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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.