The UN refugee agency says violence in the Central African Republic has become more widespread, with more civilians being displaced and put at risk. The UNHCR estimates more than two-thousand people have been killed in the country since inter-communal violence erupted in December.
UNHCR spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba said that there’s insecurity in and outside the capital, Bangui.
“Unfortunately, in CAR we’re seeing renewed violence, communal violence, following stepped-up attacks by the anti-balaka militiamen against Muslim populations and against the African Union peacekeeping force. At the same time, last week, in Bangui, a group of Muslim youth attacked Christians during a funeral ceremony killing 20 of the mourners,” she said.
Anti-balaka militias formed and began revenge attacks last December against Seleka rebels. The rebel offensive had led to the toppling of the CAR president early last year. The rebels began attacking civilians – mostly Christians and those practicing traditional beliefs.
At the height of the communal violence, about one-million people were displaced within CAR – most of them in Bangui.
She said, “For the past few months we had seen the number of displaced people go down. But then since the past two weeks or so this number is rising, especially last week when we saw renewed attacks by the anti-balaka. Now we have 637,000 people displaced. This is the first time we’re seeing the number of displaced go up in months.”
That’s an increase of some 16,000 people. About 207,000 of the displaced are in Bangui today.
Lejeune-Kaba said UNHCR is very concerned about nearly 20,000 Muslims in four locations – the PK-12 neighborhood of Bangui and in Boda, Carnot, Berberati and Bossangoa.
“We have pockets of Muslim communities that are trapped and can’t leave. If they do, they risk being killed by the anti-balaka. And the only reason why they have not been killed so far is because they are protected by foreign forces – the French troops and the African Union forces, MISCA. These are people who have been in such a situation for two to three months now. And they’re asking to be evacuated by the U.N.,” she said.
U.N. agencies have sent a mission to the north of CAR to scout possible places where the displaced can be safely relocated.
More than 80,000 people have fled CAR to the neighboring countries of Cameroon, the DRC, Republic of Congo and Chad.
“We are trying to help as much as we can, but with the low funding it’s not possible to provide the level of assistance that people need, particularly in Cameroon, where people are coming exhausted, malnourished in many cases. But progressively, we are moving them to camps. And the main challenge is providing clean water because we have to dig wells and boreholes to ensure that they get clean water,” she said.
Lejeune-Kaba said many need medical attention after walking for weeks in the bush before crossing the border.
“The fact that now we’re seeing renewed violence means that it’s even more difficult for the refugees in the surrounding countries to feel that they can go back home, although that’s what they want. Similarly, for the internally displaced it’s becoming more difficult for them to return to their neighborhoods for those who are in Bangui or to the places of origin for those who are outside of the capital.”
Anti-balaka militias control many of the roads to and from the capital. Often truck drivers have refused to take aid supplies from Cameroon to Bangui without an armed escort. UNHCR has called for more African and international troops to better protect civilians in CAR.