UNHCR says over 15000 CAR civilians facing acute risk, better security urgently needed

Briefing Notes, 25 February 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 25 February 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Central African Republic, and based on monitoring by the UNHCR-led Protection Cluster, more than 15,000 people in 18 locations in the northwest and southwest of the country are at present surrounded and being threatened by armed groups. These populations are at very high risk of attack and urgently need better security. Although violence has hit all communities in CAR, most of the people who are trapped are Muslims under threat from anti-Balaka militiamen. Areas we are particularly worried about include the PK12 neighbourhood in Bangui and the towns of Boda, Bouar and Bossangoa.

Targeting of populations based on their religions has been happening since September last year, and affecting both Christian and Muslim communities. In places such as Paoua and some areas of Bangui, communities continue to live and work together. However, atrocities have become frequent.

On Saturday, three Muslim men were reported killed in a neighbouhood of Bangui close to the airport. Last week, a convoy carrying people escaping from a besieged site at PK12 was attacked by anti-Balaka militiamen. All 21 men in the convoy were killed, leaving 119 frightened children and 19 women who fled to a nearby village. Recently in Boali, north of the capital Bangui, an attack by anti-Balaka militias left 11 people dead. The 800 traumatized survivors sought refuge at a church where they have since been hosted by the priest and protected by international forces.

UNHCR and our partners are responding to these situations through protection-by-presence, humanitarian assistance, advocacy for protection measures and in exceptional cases, through facilitating the movement of these communities to safe sites. But humanitarian efforts alone cannot be sufficient solution to the crisis. We are appealing again to all armed elements to stop indiscriminate attacks against civilians. We are also calling for the deployment of more international troops as their numbers are far too low considering the size of the country and the scope of the crisis.

CAR's new Government needs urgent support to undertake effective law enforcement in particular through deployment of police forces and reestablishm7ent of a judicial system to end impunity. Armed militias need to be disarmed, de-mobilized and when possible, reintegrated into society. Quick development action is also needed to allow displaced persons to recover a more stable environment and for economic and social life to return to normal.

Since December 2012, violence and instability have forced close to a million people to flee within CAR and to neighboring Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo. More than 700,000 are internally displaced (with 273,500 IDPs in Bangui spread over 66 sites), while more than 288,000 refugees fled to neighbouring countries.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In CAR (on mission): Dalia Al Achi on mobile +236 72675186
  • In Geneva, Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 3483
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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.