New Central African Republic violence triggers new displacement, including into DR Congo
An upsurge in violence in the Central African Republic has triggered fresh displacement inside the country and across the border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since January, an estimated 30,000 people have fled their homes and found refuge in other parts of the Central African Republic, mainly in the towns of Batangafo in the Ouham Prefecture in the north, and in Bambari in the Ouaka Prefecture in the east-central part of the country.
Much of the recent violence has been associated with seasonal movements of livestock and clashes between herders and the local and agricultural populations and the anti-Balaka. Exacerbating this, some herders have turned to ex-Seleka militias for protection. In addition recent military operations forcing ex-Seleka forces out of public buildings in Bria, a town east of Bambari, prompted reprisal attacks on nearby villages. Civilian populations were caught in the middle and saw their villages, houses and belongings burnt down. People who arrived in Bambari were totally destitute and distraught. The majority are women and children and some had been hiding in the bush for weeks.
UNHCR has distributed relief items including blankets, jerry cans, kitchen sets and plastic sheeting to more than 1,170 recently displaced families in Bambari. In Batangafo, 800 families have received these emergency kits. But while the security situation remains precarious, the humanitarian needs are still enormous. Armed elements enter some of the sites for displaced people in Bambari and Batangafo, threatening people and extorting money. Some of the displaced live just meters away from their former homes, yet they cannot go back for fear of losing their lives. While most of the local authorities are absent, many public buildings in Bambari are controlled by ex-Seleka forces. More robust police and gendarmerie presence is urgently needed to protect civilians and to prevent further killings and acts of retaliation.
Across the border, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we have registered more than 19,000 refugees [19,289] who have arrived in Bosobolo territory in the north of Equateur Province as a result of new violence since December in CAR's Kouango district, in Ouaka Prefecture. Our teams on the ground report the ongoing arrival of refugees who tell us that they flee clashes between the anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka militias in their villages. They say that their houses are being burned and they have no other choice than to flee. If they stay in their villages, they risk being tortured or killed and women are being raped. New arrivals have also been reported in the territory of Mobayi. Some 2,400 refugees have crossed into the DRC, using new entry points in the territories of Mobayi and Bosobolo since 15 February. Most are children. They said that they had fled expected violence by ex-Seleka as a consequence of the disarmament operation in Bri a.
UNHCR and its partners are on the ground to set up a new refugee site in the area of Bili, away from the border. Newly arrived refugees currently live in spontaneous settlements on the shore of the Oubangui River, the natural border between the DRC and CAR, in makeshift shelters with very limited access to health care, clean water and food. Children have no access to education. Moreover, due to the proximity of the border, refugees are exposed to alleged infiltration of armed elements.
We organize emergency assistance, including mobile clinics, and access to potable water while preparing their transfer to the refugee site. The lack of services and logistical challenges in this remote part of Northern DRC including poor road conditions and broken bridges are making this work even more difficult. The hospital in Bili has only 15 beds and lacks equipment
Our teams have received alarming reports of sexual violence by armed elements from CAR. On 9 February, three refugee girls were kidnapped by armed elements who crossed into the DRC close to Dula and took them back to the Central African Republic. One girl who managed to escape told us that they were raped. She is now receiving medical treatment. The other girls are still missing. We also received a report of a woman in her thirties and her 14 year-old daughter who were raped while they returned to the Central African Republic to look for food and harvest coffee in their field. While the mother was released by her captors, her daughter is still in captivity. We fear that there are many more cases that remain unreported. Therefore, relocation of the refugees away from the border is crucial and we call on all partners and the Congolese authorities to deploy all necessary efforts to allow this transfer to take place urgently.
In total more than 893,000 people have been forcibly displaced by violence in the Central African Republic. Some 442,000 are displaced inside the country, including more than 50,000 in Bangui, some 35,000 people who fled to Bambari and 33,700 in Batangafo. Some 451,000 are living in exile, mainly in Cameroon (245,000), Chad (94,000), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (88,000) and the Republic of the Congo (24,000)
For more information on this topic, please contact:
- In Kinshasa, Celine Schmitt on mobile +243 81 700 94 84
- In Bangui, Dalia Al Achi on mobile +236 72675186
- In Geneva, Karin de Gruijl on mobile +41 79 255 9213