CAR refugees attacked as they flee to Cameroon

Briefing Notes, 11 April 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 11 April 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is extremely concerned about reports of anti-Balaka militiamen preventing civilians from leaving the Central African Republic and attacking them along the way.

Over the past two weeks, our colleagues in Cameroon have been seeing refugees arrive with wounds from machetes or gunshots. They are also witnessing an increase in the number of people crossing into Cameroon via remote border entry points.

New arrivals told our colleagues that anti-Balaka militias have blocked main roads to Cameroon, forcing them to wade through the bush for two to three months before reaching the border. The refugees also said that the anti-Balaka attacked them during their flight.

In recent days, we have registered three people a woman, a boy and a man with serious machete wounds. Another man had a gunshot in the chest. All of the wounded have received medical care.

The majority of the new arrivals are women, children and elderly people, and all are Muslims. They told UNHCR staff that the men stayed in CAR to create self-defence groups to protect their community and their cattle.

UNHCR is calling on the anti-Balaka to stop preventing civilians from fleeing to neighbouring countries for safety. We are also calling on all sides to the conflict to renounce violence.

Despite the obstacles to their movement, an average of 10,000 people now cross weekly from CAR into eastern Cameroon. With the main entry points at Garoua Boulai and Kenzou no longer accessible due to anti-Balaka activities, people are using alternative routes. This has caused the number of entry points into Cameroon to grow from 12 to 27 over last three weeks, making it more challenging for our colleagues to monitor the border.

Most new arrivals are coming from the areas of Boda and Bozoum, near the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chad, respectively. Because of the long detour, all of the refugees are arriving in a terrible state, some with swollen feet or legs and others suffering from malnutrition.

With our partners, we have increased the number of mobile clinics at entry points to provide emergency care as refugees arrive. We are also supporting public health centers overwhelmed both by the number of refugees and their condition.

Meanwhile, we have relocated some 20,000 refugees who had been living out in the open in the Garoua Bouai and Kenzou border areas. They are now settled in the sites we set up at Lolo, Mborguene, Gado and Borgop all located in the East and Adamwa regions.

Since the beginning of the year, Cameroon has received 69,389 refugees from CAR. This is on top of the 92,000 Centrafricain refugees who have fled in various waves since 2004 to escape rebel groups and bandits in the north of their country.

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UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Cameroon in late March to put a spotlight on the situation there of tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria. These people have escaped mounting violence by insurgents in the north-east of their country. Among the places that Guterres visited during his March 24-25 visit is the Minawao Refugee Camp, where many of the uprooted have been relocated.

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