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UN Sends More Emergency Teams to CAR

  • Joe DeCapua

The U.N. refugee agency has deployed additional emergency teams to the Central African Republic, where violence in the capital, Bangui, has forced more than 200,000 people to flee from their homes over the past two weeks.
UNHCR's Adrian Edwards said the agency is in the process of sending additional protection teams in view of the deteriorating situation and reports of new mass displacements. Edwards did not specify the number of newly deployed personnel, but said staff have begun arriving this week and that more are on their way.
French and African intervention forces have been trying to quell unrest in the country after it descended into chaos in March when mostly Muslim rebels, known as Seleka, overthrew president Francois Bozize.


Months of looting and killing have brought retaliation by Bozize allies and Christian militias, known as anti-balaka.
VOA French to Africa correspondent Idrisse Fall in Bangui says thousands of Bangui residents are in dire straits after seeking refuge at the airport, which is under French protection.
"No mattress, no food, no nothing," he said. "No water. No electricity. Nothing. No latrine. No toilet. It is very, very.... I cannot describe what I saw there."
But overall, Fall says, Bangui is quiet: "The French are here, the soldiers. There is not a lot of fighting. The anti-Balaka are here, the Seleka are here but there is not a lot of fighting going on," he said. "The streets are empty. You do not see a lot of people."
UNHCR spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba says the 210,000 people displaced over the past two weeks within Bangui is largely the result of violence based on ethnic and religious discrimination.
"This is a lot of people, and we expect more to continue to be displaced for as long as armed men are going house to house looting, breaking in, killing based on religion," she said. “People are careful. They don’t want to step outside of the house too much. There’s a curfew also from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. People cannot necessarily find food."
According to UNHCR, more than 75,000 people have fled to neighboring countries, with many women and children from the capital crossing the Oubangui River to seek safety in the DRC town of Zongo.
“People are fleeing to DRC when they can because the border is closed on the CAR side," said Lejeune-Kaba. "Congo has left its border opened for anyone seeking asylum. And that’s why we’re seeing some people taking the risk of even being shot at to cross because they feel the situation is so desperate at home in Bangui,” she said.
About 400 kilometers from Bangui – in Bossangoa and areas further north – both parties to the conflict have been blamed for looting, violence and the burning of shops and houses.
“Central African forces there had to rescue three people just over the weekend and took them to the hospital, and this is bad because these people have been living alongside one another forever, and today they’ve become enemies and fear each other," said Lejeune-Kaba, explaining that French and African troops deployed in the north may be able to secure sites for the internally displaced and police troubled neighborhoods.
The UNHCR said the biggest needs among displaced civilians are food, medicine and shelter, as many are sleeping out in the open during the rainy season.
United States special envoy to CAR, David Brown, said the U.S. has provided the country with a considerable amount of humanitarian assistance, much of it food aid.
"In 2013, that aid has exceeded to $25 million," he said. "In addition, there was also an announcement of $6.2 million in refugee assistance in September and we expect in 2014 there will be a very considerable increase in this humanitarian assistance."
Relief organizations say recent fighting in the capital and elsewhere has left more than 600 people dead, and the U.N. recently declared the situation in CAR as a Level Three crisis, meaning it is of the utmost priority.
Violence and insecurity have displaced more than an estimated 710,000 people within the country since a November 2012 coup in which Seleka rebels — a coalition of armed groups — swept President Bozize from power.
Seleka leader Michel Djotodia became president in August. While some of the mostly Muslim rebels were incorporated into the national army, many were not, and the ex-rebels have since taken to violence against Christian civilians.
In response, Christians formed armed groups known as the anti-Balaka. The president has not been able to control his former militia members.

VOA correspondent Idrisse Fall contributed to this report.
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