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
• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

Central African Republic: Urgent Appeal

You can help save the lives of thousands of refugees

Donate to this crisis

Young and Struggling with Malnutrition: Child Refugees in Cameroon

Growing numbers of refugees from the Central African Republic have been arriving in Cameroon in a dreadful physical condition after spending weeks or months hiding in the bush, struggling to find food and water, and sleeping out in the open, unable to return to the homes they were forced to flee from. The most vulnerable of these refugees are the children, especially those aged under five years. It is heart-breaking to see these rail thin children, clearly in need of sustenance after living on roots and leaves. An estimated 40 per cent of children arrive suffering from malnutrition and for some the journey proves too much, but UNHCR has been helping to save lives in eastern Cameroon. With Médecins Sans Frontières, the refugee agency supports a nutrition centre in Batouri. MSF sends children there from its overwhelmed health clinic in the border town of Gbiti, where some 20,000 of the 80,000 Central African refugees in Cameroon have arrived. The partners are expanding the capacity of the centre, which treats about 100 children. More arrive daily and UNHCR has set up tents to provide shelter for the children and their mothers. Photographer Frederic Noy last week visited Gbiti and Batouri and captured the following powerful images.

Young and Struggling with Malnutrition: Child Refugees in Cameroon

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

Cameroon: A Young Victim of ViolencePlay video

Cameroon: A Young Victim of Violence

Militia attacks on civilians in Central African Republic have left many people, including children, dead or badly injured. Six-year-old Ibrahim is recovering from one such attack, lucky to be alive.
Cameroon:  Malnourished ChildrenPlay video

Cameroon: Malnourished Children

Some 80,000 people from Central African Republic have fled to Cameroon this year, many of them after walking for weeks or months through the bush with almost no food and water. Many of the children have severe malnutrition. UNHCR and its partners are rushing to help them.
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.