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August 30, 2013

UN Agencies See Security Deterioration in CAR

by Lisa Schlein

UN aid agencies report an alarming deterioration in the security situation in the Central African Republic. The agencies reports thousands of people are newly displaced as a result of the recent increase in violence in the capital, Bangui, and elsewhere in the country.

The U.N. Refugee Agency calls the Central African Republic a very frightening place. It said CAR is a world humanitarian crisis that is being vastly overshadowed by what is happening in Syria and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the last 10 days, the UNHCR reports a great many people have been fleeing fighting in at least two main areas of the capital, Bangui. On Thursday, it said between 5,000 and 6,000 people, including many women and children, sought refuge at Bangui International airport, blocking air traffic and forcing planes to be rerouted to Douala, Cameroon.

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards says this chaotic situation seems now to have calmed down and tensions are easing.

“The latest that we are hearing is that people are leaving the airport. There are smaller numbers there. There does seem to have been some damage at the airport. Broken lights, for example, for nighttime landing we understand," he said. "But, the situation does seem to be improving as of today. But, of course, we are going to have to watch this closely. There has been so much volatility in Bangui and other parts of the country that it is really hard to predict whether this is moving in a safer direction or worse one.”

The UNHCR said it is receiving alarming reports of widespread looting in Bangui and attacks against civilians. It says people in Bangui are victims of arbitrary arrests, detention, torture, extortion, and physical violence. So far, 10 people reportedly have been killed.

Edwards said the situation outside Bangui is even more dangerous and chaotic. He says civilian vigilante groups are forming and so-called freelance elements of the Seleka rebels are roaming and causing havoc.

The Seleka rebels seized Bangui in March, forcing President Francois Bozize to flee the country. Since then, lawlessness has been growing in this increasingly chaotic country.

The World Food Program reports the deteriorating situation in CAR over the past weeks is increasing risks for aid workers. It says the humanitarian community increasingly is becoming the target of looting and attacks by armed groups.

WFP spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs said crime is a major threat throughout the country and a growing number of robberies are taking place in private residences. But, she said these security incidents, so far, have not affected WFP’s distribution program.

“We still distribute and assist, deliver to our beneficiaries. But, it is becoming a concern. And, also the recent closure on the 21st of August to the Cameroon border with CAR after the killing of a Cameroonian border police officer-the border closure could have an impact on the delivery of WFP commodities from Doula to Bangui as well on the local economy,” says Byrs.

Byrs said WFP has pre-positioned food in CAR, so deliveries will continue.  This month, she says the agency expects to reach 81,000 beneficiaries.  Given the increased needs, WFP is planning to scale up its operation to include an additional 118,500 people in need of assistance.