UNHCR concerned about the displaced, refugee populations in CAR

Briefing Notes, 11 January 2013

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 11 January 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In the Central African Republic UNHCR is seeking immediate and unconditional access to tens of thousands of refugees and CAR civilians displaced by the recent fighting in the north and east of one of the poorest countries and most deprived nations. We believe that these civilians face deteriorating living conditions and that they need urgent and potentially life-saving help.

While UNHCR welcomes the one-week ceasefire announced last night during the Gabon peace talks between the CAR Government, the Seleka rebel alliance and opposition parties, we fear that many more people will be affected including some 700,000 in the capital if full-scale fighting resumes.

It is impossible to give precise figures for the number of newly displaced because of the fluid security situation and lack of access to rebel-held areas, but we have received reports of thousands of people being displaced in the north and east since the start of the Séléka advance about a month ago. About 800,000 people were believed to be living in the affected areas when the current crisis erupted.

We are extremely concerned about the general welfare of displaced civilians, many of whom live under harsh conditions and in remote settlements, as well as of refugees from countries including South Sudan, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. CAR hosts some 17,000 refugees and some 2,500 asylum-seekers. We call on all sides to respect the human rights of all civilians and to allow humanitarian access to them.

We are particularly worried about some 2,000 Sudanese refugees in the Bambari camp, in the central part of the country an area under rebel control. UNHCR is trying to re-establish contact with this refugee population. There were confirmed reports that our office there was looted on December 28 after our staff were evacuated. Another UNHCR office, in Kaga-Bandoro, has also been looted.

The current crisis in the country has also led to a small number of people fleeing to neighbouring countries. UNHCR staff have registered 286 refugees from CAR in the Nord-Oubangui region of DR Congo's Equateur province. We are also investigating reports that some refugees have arrived in southern Chad.

Meanwhile the looting of several World Food Programme warehouses in Bria, Bambari and Kaga Bandoro could cause serious delays to food distribution to refugees in Bambari, Zemio and Batalimo. UNHCR and the WFP are looking for a quick solution for resuming food aid.

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