CAR violence forces thousands to flee to neighbouring Cameroon

Briefing Notes, 7 February 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 7 February 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Thousands of people are fleeing for safety to Cameroon to escape violence in the Central African Republic.

Just in the past ten days, 8,762 people of various nationalities crossed into the town of Kentzou in eastern Cameroon, including mostly Central Africans (4,764) but also foreign nationals from Chad (3,424), Cameroon (1, 497), Nigeria (43) and Mali (10). This brings the number of CAR refugees in Cameroon to more than 20,000 since fighting started.

The new arrivals told UNHCR staff they fled because of confrontations between the former Seleka and anti-Balaka militiamen in the capital, Bangui, and other towns in the north- west such as Bour, Baboua, Beloko and Cantonnier. Some also fled from intense fighting in the areas of, Berberati, Carnot, Baoro and Gambala. Others fled because of fear that the anti-Balaka militiamen were advancing towards their areas.

The Central Africans we have registered as refugees are mainly women and children and include 43 pregnant women, 50 lactating mothers and 89 handicapped people in need of special attention. The majority of them are Muslims who say they feared for their safety because of their perceived sympathy for the largely Muslim Seleka group.

Living conditions are precarious for the new arrivals who are either hosted by impoverished local families, or living in mosques, a stadium or on the streets. UNHCR is working on converting a nearby campsite designated by authorities and plans to transfer refugees there by the end of next week.

UNHCR has approached various embassies to take charge of citizens of other nationalities.

Before the current crisis, Cameroon was already hosting 92,000 CAR refugees who started to arrive in 2004 to escape from rebel groups and bandits in the north of their country.

People fleeing recent communal violence in CAR are also heading to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since Saturday, DRC has received more than 1,500 refugees and more are arriving daily. They came from areas still under the control of Seleka elements who, they say, are abusing civilians.

With the latest arrivals, there are now more than 60,000 CAR refugees who have sought asylum in the DRC, due to atrocities committed by the Seleka earlier in the conflict, and most recently due to recurrent fighting, as well as indiscriminate attacks perpetrated by armed Muslim and Christian mobs.

Since the beginning of the conflict in December 2012, close to 246,000 CAR civilians have become refugees across the region.

More than 838,000 people also remain displaced inside CAR. With the lack of immediate prospect for their return and the onset of the rainy season, UNHCR fears a worsening humanitarian crisis. Overcrowded and makeshift sites they are living in cannot absorb the water and lack proper sanitation facilities. As a result, there is a high risk of cholera and other public health issues, particularly in Bangui where 413,094 still live in makeshift sites.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Kinshasa, Celine Schmitt on mobile +243 81 700 94 84
  • In Geneva: Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 34 83
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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.

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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

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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

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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.
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