UNHCR issues fresh appeal for CAR refugees in Cameroon

News Stories, 23 May 2014

© UNHCR/F.Noy
Malnourished children from Central African Republic at feeding time with their mothers in Batouri Hospital. Many children crossing the border into Cameroon are suffering from malnutrition.

GENEVA, May 23 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Friday issued a fresh appeal for funds to help the growing number of refugees arriving in eastern Cameroon from the Central African Republic, many of them malnourished and ill after walking and hiding in the bush for weeks.

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva that the rate of deaths among refugee children has been particularly high in recent weeks. "Twenty nine children, the youngest a baby and the eldest nine years old, died between April 14 and May 18 most of them at therapeutic feeding centres, where they had arrived already gravely ill. Dehydration, hypothermia and severe anaemia were the main causes of death," he said.

Refugees from the Central African Republic have been arriving in Cameroon since December 5 through some 30 border points on a long border. At present there are 85,000 refugees in some 300 villages, making it extremely challenging for humanitarian agencies to meet their needs. In the worst-affected area, around Gbiti, severe malnutrition rates among newly arriving refugee children are running at close to 40 per cent.

"We are relocating refugees away from the border to six sites we have set up, as well as to several villages. More than 25,000 refugees have so far been moved. This has become additionally pressing amid reports of infiltration of Anti-Balaka fighters into Cameroon," he said, adding that on May 14, gunfire from Central African Republic was heard near a spontaneous refugee site in Gbiti.

At present, more than 2,000 refugees are crossing into Cameroon weekly, down from the peak of more than 10,000 in the last week of March. Arrivals decreased in early April after Anti-Balaka militiamen, who have attacked refugees on the way, blocked the main roads leading to Cameroon. Newly arriving refugees tell UNHCR staff that many of their family members remain trapped in the bush across the border.

Edwards said UNHCR had established three new bases in eastern Cameroon to better help refugees arriving across the border, but the agency was unable to reach all 30 entry points. "Since March, we have had 35 staff in three teams in the area. Each team includes specialists in protection, community services, registration, health and nutrition, water and sanitation, site planning and shelter," the spokesman said.

"While the humanitarian efforts are saving lives, we are accelerating the deployment of more NGOs for the critical sectors of health and nutrition. Currently, NGO capacity is worryingly thin in the refugee hosting areas. Several agencies have reported difficulties in covering the vast array of needs," he noted.

UNHCR is working with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme and five medical aid agencies to reduce malnutrition rates and deaths. This includes the provision of therapeutic and supplementary feeding for the malnourished, general food distribution, vaccination campaigns, and the supply of clean water, sanitation and shelter.

"Further funding is needed to expand services and better address the situation," Edwards said, adding: "UNHCR renews its call for donors to urgently step up funding to humanitarian operations in Cameroon."

Of the US$22.6 million UNHCR is seeking to help this population, so far just US$4.2 million has been received. In addition, the Regional Refugee Response Plan for Central African Republic is only 12 per cent funded. This plan involves UNHCR and 14 partners in the four countries affected by Central African Republic refugee crisis Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Republic of the Congo.

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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.

Cattle herders in northern CAR are menaced by the zaraguina, bandits who kidnap children for ransom. The villagers must sell off their livestock to pay.

Posted on 21 February 2008

Crisis in the Central African Republic

Silent Success

Despite being chased from their homes in the Central African Republic and losing their livelihoods, Mbororo refugees have survived by embracing a new way of life in neighbouring Cameroon.

The Mbororo, a tribe of nomadic cattle herders from Central African Republic, started fleeing their villages in waves in 2005, citing insecurity as well as relentless targeting by rebel groups and bandits who steal their cattle and kidnap women and children for ransom.

They arrived in the East and Adamaoua provinces of Cameroon with nothing. Though impoverished, the host community welcomed the new arrivals and shared their scant resources. Despite this generosity, many refugees died of starvation or untreated illness.

Help arrived in 2007, when UNHCR and partner agencies began registering refugees, distributing food, digging and rehabilitating wells as well as building and supplying medical clinics and schools, which benefit refugees and the local community and promote harmony between them. The Mbororo were eager to learn a new trade and set up farming cooperatives. Though success didn't come immediately, many now make a living from their crops.

Mbororo refugees continue to arrive in Central African Republic - an average of 50 per month. The long-term goal is to increase refugees' self-reliance and reduce their dependency on humanitarian aid.

Silent Success

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

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