UNHCR condemns deadly attack on displaced people in CAR church

News Stories, 30 May 2014

© UNHCR/B.Heger
Displaced people shelter on the grounds of a church in Bossangoa. Until recently, religious institutions were considered safe havens for people fleeing conflict in the Central African Republic.

BANGUI, Central African Republic, May 30 (UNHCR) In one of the year's worst attacks on safe havens for displaced people in the country, at least 17 people were killed and 27 are missing after armed men threw grenades and opened fire on Bangui's Notre Dame de Fatima church on Wednesday.

Among the dead are the church's priest, with two children and two adults succumbing to their injuries on Thursday. The missing civilians were reportedly abducted by the assailants who drove them to an unknown location.

"UNHCR strongly condemns this attack against innocent civilians," said UNHCR spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba at a Geneva press briefing on Friday. "We call again all sides of the armed conflict to protect civilians, in line with their obligations under international law. We also call on all sides of the conflict to allow for the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance and unhindered access to the people in need of protection and aid."

At the time of the attack, the Notre Dame de Fatima was hosting 9,000 internally displaced people, including 2,050 who moved there only a week earlier to escape from rising insecurity in nearby neighbourhoods. Others had been staying there since December 2013.

The church is now empty. Those who fled have either moved to the surrounding neighbourhoods or southwards towards 10 sites in the capital and the adjacent area of Bimbo.

"Many fled without anything no money, no food, not even a mat to sleep on. Others had bullet wounds that need to be attended to urgently," said Lejeune-Kaba. "Compounding their hardship, the overcrowded IDP sites they moved to face shortages in water, food, shelter and basic healthcare."

Until recently, churches, monasteries and mosques have been safe havens for displaced people across the Central African Republic. In Bangui, 32 out of 43 IDP sites are religious institutions.

Security in the CAR capital has deteriorated sharply since last weekend. On Sunday May 25, three people heading to an inter-communal reconciliation football match were killed in the PK5 neighbourhood, purportedly by anti-Balaka elements. On Monday and Tuesday, the situation remained tense and shootings were reported. On Wednesday, inter-communal hostilities culminated with the attack at Notre Dame de Fatima.

Other parts of the country have also seen violence in the last 10 days. For example, in Bambari in Ouaka province north-east of Bangui, clashes erupted on May 21 and 24 between French Sangaris elements and armed civilians over the implementation of confidence-building measures and the cantonment of ex-Seleka forces.

Meanwhile, UNHCR partners have documented progressive returns in areas of the north-western Ouham-Pende and the northern Ouham provinces. With the mixed displacement trends, the overall number of IDPs remains at 557,000 across the country, including 132,000 in Bangui. Since December 2013, nearly 121,000 CAR refugees have fled to neighbouring countries.

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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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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.

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