A contribution from Denmark helps UNHCR strengthen the response to the deteriorating situation in the Central African Republic, forcing thousands to flee their homes.
It was early morning, when 28-year old Paul Ouaki heard the gunshots. He and his family were sleeping in their home in the Central African capital Bangui, when armed rebels attacked the city on January 13. Paul took his family, left behind their house and their fields, and ran.
“I could see people falling down dead. Some of them were my friends,” he said.
The family crossed the river and border into neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where they slept under palm branches in a small village on the riverbank.
“When we arrived, our living condition were difficult. Finding food was very difficult, but we could not go back, because day and night, we could still hear the guns,” explained Paul who is among the more than 90,000 Central African refugees – according to local authorities who have sought safety in DRC in recent months.
Violence erupted in the Central African Republic in December after the presidential elections, forcing thousands of people to flee the escalating clashes between armed groups and government forces. It’s estimated that 336,000 people have fled their homes in the first three months of 2021. Approximately a total of 734,000 remain displaced inside the country. 115,000 have fled to neighboring countries since the beginning of the electoral crisis – some to Chad, Cameroon and the Republic of the Congo, but the vast majority to DRC. Here, conditions are dire – and the need for help is huge. Many refugees have little to no access to drinking water, food and sanitation. They sleep in makeshift shelters, while others have been welcomed by host families in the villages, that are now seeing up to three families living together in a single home.
A contribution of DKK 20 million (approximately USD 2.9 million) from Denmark’s flexible Emergency Reserve Fund has now been allocated to UNHCR’s response to the displacement in the Central African Republic. This timely funding will help UNHCR protect and assist the many Central African refugees.
“For years, the Central African Republic has been one of the most overlooked and underfunded humanitarian crisis situations in the world. This contribution from Denmark will help UNHCR scale up critical protection activities and deliver much needed help to thousands of newly displaced children, women and men,” says Henrik M. Nordentoft, UNHCR’s Representative to the Nordic and Baltic Countries.
In DRC, UNHCR is supporting the Government with biometric registration of the arriving Central African refugees and asylum-seekers. Currently, 1,000 refugees are registered on a daily basis – and this allows UNHCR to identify and assist particularly vulnerable refugees, such as survivors of gender-based violence and unaccompanied minors. UNHCR is also providing refugees with basic aid such as mats to sleep on, plastics sheets, blankets, mosquito nets and jerrycans to collect water.
Additionally, UNHCR is working to relocate thousands of refugees away from the remote villages, dangerously close to the border and the fighting, and to provide them better shelters in newly developed sites. The plan is to relocate over 25,000 refugees in the coming months to three different sites, where UNHCR is repairing infrastructure, setting up water and sanitation facilities and health centres. Here, the refugees will be able to grow their own crops and become more self-reliant, and their children will be able to attend local schools.
The Central African Republic has for decades been characterized by political unrest and waves of violence, and today almost a third of the country’s population is uprooted and forcibly displaced.
For 28-year old Paul Ouaki and his family, it’s not the first time they have been forced to flee to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, leaving behind their home country. It happened the first time in 2014, but after spending six years in a refugee camp in DRC, the family was repatriated last year with assistance from UNHCR. Following the 2019 peace agreement, UNHCR was helping Central African refugees return home and rebuild their lives – but for Paul Ouaki and his family, and many others, they returned home only to be forced to flee again a year after.
“I was glad to return to my country, when I saw that peace was restored. Now, the events are being repeated,” he said.
Denmark has long ranked among UNHCR’s top ten donors. In 2020, Denmark provided UNHCR with USD 96.5 million. Each year, around USD 35 million of Denmark’s funding is provided as completely unearmarked funding, enabling UNHCR to protect refugees in protracted and underfunded situations.
Within its overall funding, Denmark annually contributes with an Emergency Reserve Fund of DKK 50 million (around USD 7.4 million) at the start of each year, which UNHCR can allocate towards the most urgent needs. The flexibility of the fund allows UNHCR to respond to emergencies, which saves lives and assists displaced people with critical protection needs and acute basic necessities.