Renewed violence in CAR drives record levels of displacement
As violence escalates across Central African Republic, thousands are forced to leave everything behind.
BRIA, Central African Republic – Pierre is tired, both mentally and physically. Escalating violence in the Central African Republic has forced him to bundle up his family and few belongings and run for his life once again.
“We are tired of fleeing,” says the 62-year-old father of six. “This is the third time that I have been displaced with my family.”
Pierre first fled for his life in 2013, at the height of the conflict. Three years later, he and his family sought safety at a site for displaced people in the town of Bria in central CAR. “When the site was attacked last August, we had to flee again,” he explains.
Fresh fighting in CAR has wrought new waves of destruction and bloodshed.
Further south, in the town of Zemio, Marie, 30, is staying at another site for the displaced, but longs for her home and former life. “We lack everything,” she says.
Since May 2017, fresh fighting between armed groups in CAR has wrought new waves of destruction, bloodshed and displacement. Many of the displaced, like Pierre and Marie, speak of having witnessed killings, robberies, lootings and kidnappings.
Some 600,000 people have been forced to flee inside the country since 2013. Many of the new displacements have taken place in areas such as Zemio that had not previously been affected by the conflict. Another 500,000 have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. This is the highest number of refugees seen since the start of the crisis in 2013.
By the end of August, the Democratic Republic of Congo was hosting over 167,000 Central African refugees, almost 40 percent of whom fled the recent fighting. Cameroon is hosting another 236,000 refugees and Chad has received over 74,000 refugees from CAR, most of them women and children. The Republic of the Congo hosts an additional 31,499 refugees.
Yapele Nicolas counts himself lucky to made it across the border into Chad with his two wives and seven children. “We fled the war in CAR and thanks to UNHCR’s protection, we now live here in safety,” he says.
The family live in a refugee camp near the village of Diba in Southern Chad. “We are on good terms with Chadians in the neighbouring villages,” says Yapele. “They let us use the land to farm and get something to eat and supplement the humanitarian aid.”
Insecurity is hampering efforts to deliver urgently needed humanitarian aid.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has warned that if the upsurge in violence continues to go unchecked, previous progress towards peace and stability will be reversed. The current insecurity is also hampering efforts to deliver urgently needed humanitarian aid. Some planned humanitarian deliveries by air have been delayed or blocked, due to the presence of armed groups.
Moreover, aid agencies, including UNHCR, are increasingly among those targeted by armed groups and have, in some instances, been compelled to temporarily withdraw their staff.
Despite these challenges, UNHCR has continued to work with partner agencies and Government ministries to deliver aid and, where possible, to help people return home.
“Our concern at the moment is the protection of civilians who are internally displaced,” says Buti Kale, UNHCR’s Representative in CAR. He adds that approximately 54,000 displaced people have returned to their homes in the capital, Bangui.
“We will continue working with other UN agencies to help with safe and voluntary returns in Bangui and hopefully do the same in other provinces.”
However, this can only happen if the transition to peace and stability is fully supported. UNHCR has appealed for US$209 million in 2017 to assist those displaced inside CAR and to meet the needs of Central African refugees in the region. But so far, a mere 9 percent of that figure has been received, making the CAR situation one of the most underfunded humanitarian emergencies in the world.
Additional reporting by Aikaterini Kitidi in Geneva.