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Cameroon: UNHCR stepping up aid to CAR refugees arriving in poor conditions

Briefing Notes, 14 March 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 14 March 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In eastern Cameroon an increasing number of people fleeing violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) are arriving ill, due to hunger and exhaustion during their flight.

Some 80 percent of the latest arrivals suffer ailments such as malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections. More than 20 percent of the children are severely malnourished.

While in CAR, many were forced to walk over a month and hide in the bushes without food or clean water, to avoid being killed by anti-Balaka militiamen who have been targeting Muslims in revenge attacks.

Many have lost relatives to hunger along the way or shortly after reaching Cameroon. They are also traumatized by the horrors they experienced in northwest CAR.

One refugee said he could no longer eat meat after witnessing someone being killed and cut into pieces by Anti-Balaka.

A woman, whose husband had been shot by the anti-Balaka, lost six of her nine children to hunger in CAR, when they were in the bush for seven weeks without food.

Sixteen refugees died after reaching Cameroon between January and February, including six from severe malnutrition. Their conditions were too advanced for them to be saved despite the emergency treatment received in local hospitals.

Thirty three children have died in Kenzou, according to one of the community leaders of the 9,000 Chadians who had to flee from CAR. Twenty of the dead were Chadians, while the identity of the 13 others could not be determined.

Since March 2013, Cameroon has received 44,252 refugees from the Central African Republic. New arrivals are living with host families or sheltering in mosques, churches, a stadium, or in makeshift sites. Some are sleeping out in the open.

We have moved nearly 10,000 refugees who were sleeping out in the open to settlements we have established close to the villages of Lolo, Mborguene, Borgop and Gado. There, they receive food, clean drinking water, family shelters and basic relief items.

Meanwhile, we have stepped up assistance in border areas and deployed emergency staff, including nutrition specialists and site planners.

We have funded health posts and mobile clinics in Kenzou as well as Ngaoui, Yamba and Gbatoua-Godoli in the neighbouring Adamawa region.

We have also erected community shelters and latrines in Garoua Boulai and Kenzou to house women, children and elderly people.

Despite our efforts, aid is not enough to cover all the refugees' needs. We will require more donor support to expand facilities in Garoua Boulai and Kenzou and to turn them into transit centres where all arrivals can be medically screened and treated without delay. We will also be able to provide food and non-food assistance in order to avert further deaths. There have been no deaths in the refugee sites so far.

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

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Cameroon, Djerassem Mbaiorem on mobile +237 90 16 06 08
  • In Geneva, Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 34 83
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Crisis in the Central African Republic

Little has been reported about the humanitarian crisis in the northern part of the Central African Republic (CAR), where at least 295,000 people have been forced out of their homes since mid-2005. An estimated 197,000 are internally displaced, while 98,000 have fled to Chad, Cameroon or Sudan. They are the victims of fighting between rebel groups and government forces.

Many of the internally displaced live in the bush close to their villages. They build shelters from hay, grow vegetables and even start bush schools for their children. But access to clean water and health care remains a huge problem. Many children suffer from diarrhoea and malaria but their parents are too scared to take them to hospitals or clinics for treatment.

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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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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

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