Central African Republic: Chadian refugees leave their home of decades

News Stories, 3 February 2014

© UNHCR/H.Reichenberger
After decades of living in the Central African Republic, these refugees have chosen to return home to Chad to escape from the violence.

BANGUI, Central African Republic, February 3 (UNHCR) Forty-year-old Adidja* recently flew out of the Central African Republic (CAR), her home for decades, with a heavy heart and a terrible sense of loss.

"I have a feeling that I am leaving a part of myself behind. At the same time, I know I will never return to this country," she had told the refugee agency last month when she, her ailing husband and 10 of their children turned up at the UNHCR office in Bangui to board a bus for the airport and a flight back to Chad, more than 30 years after her family fled conflict there. The latest outbreak of violence in CAR in December between rival armed groups proved too much.

Adidja and her family were among a group of 201 Chadian refugees, mostly from the capital N'Djamena and Am-Timan in the south, who were voluntarily repatriated on January 19 under a programme launched days earlier by UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. Frightened refugees from Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of Congo, Sudan and South Sudan have also registered to repatriate and some 400 Congolese are scheduled to return home by boat across the Oubangui River later this week.

At the UNHCR office, Adidja was stressed. Aside from the trauma of displacement and concerns about the future, she was desperately worried about her 15-year-old son, Karim. "One day [December 5], he just left to meet his uncle at the mosque, but he never returned," she said, fearing the worst.

The conflict in Central African Republic has left more than 900,000 people internally displaced while an estimated 86,000 have fled the country. The roots of the current inter-communal conflict are complicated and, in recent weeks, the situation has been exacerbated by individual and mob violence as well as banditry.

For Adidja, December 5 will be the day that her life came tumbling down, "the day that CAR changed from being our home, to being our deathbed." She was referring specifically to reprisal attacks by the two main communities, which had long lived together in harmony, that led to the violence spiralling out of control.

Convinced that her son was dead, Adidja asserted that "he was killed because of his religion." Much of the recent violence perpetrated by members of the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebel group and the Christian "Anti-Balaka" militia has targeted people of the two faiths. Religious leaders have made joint calls on people to halt the violence.

This development has come as a shock for refugees like Adidja, who had fully integrated into Central African life after living for decades in the country, where she sold fruit and vegetables in Bangui. The welcoming country of asylum had suddenly become a place filled with threats and danger.

The conflict put the refugees in a precarious situation because Chadians are perceived by many people as taking sides in the conflict.

As the situation deteriorated, Adidja and many other scared refugees, expressed their wish to go back to their homeland. Under the voluntary repatriation programme, the Chadians will be taken to N'Djamena and given a cash grant to help them reintegrate in Chad, a country that some have never seen.

But although Adidja was relieved to be leaving for a safer destination, she said she would miss the friends she left behind. Before contacting UNHCR, she and her family had been hiding in the house of their Christian neighbour with just one case of belongings the rest of their possessions were looted. The friend brought them to the UNHCR office.

Facing an uncertain future, she told UNHCR that she wanted to start a new life in her place of origin, Sarh, which is Chad's third largest city. It is located some 350 kilometres south-east of N'Djamena near the border with Central African Republic.

UNHCR is assisting and protecting more than 17,850 refugees in the Central African Republic, including 4,000 living in Bangui.

* Name changed for protection reasons

By Bernard Ntwari in Bangui, Central African Republic




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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.

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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

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