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




UNHCR country pages

Central African Republic: Urgent Appeal

You can help save the lives of thousands of refugees

Donate to this crisis

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

Batalimo to Batanga and Beyond: Congolese Return Home from CAR

Over the past month, almost 6,300 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have left the Batalimo camp in the troubled Central African Republic and returned voluntarily to their homes in Equateur province. Their decision to go back is a further sign of the gravity of the situation in Central African Republic, where escalated violence since December has left hundreds of thousands internally displaced and forced almost 350,000 to flee to neighbouring countries. The refugees at Batalimo were among some 20,000 Congolese who had fled to the Central African Republic to escape inter-ethnic conflict back home. The return operation from Batalimo had been postponed several times for security and logistical reasons, but on April 10 the first convoy headed across the Oubangui River. The last arrived in the DRC on May 10. The UN refugee agency organized transportation of the refugees from Batalimo to the Central African Republic riverside town of Zinga, where they boarded boats for the crossing to Batanga or Libenge in Equateur province. In Batanga, the returnees were registered, provided with documentation and given a cash grant to help them reintegrate. They were then transported to their villages, where they will be monitored. Photographer Leonora Baumann followed one group back to the DRC.

Batalimo to Batanga and Beyond: Congolese Return Home from CAR

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

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.