News / Africa

Rescue Flights From Bangui May Be Put On Hold

A crowd runs for cover as African Union (AU) peacekeeping soldiers fire warning shots to disperse a crowd near the district of Miskine in Bangui, Feb. 7, 2014.
A crowd runs for cover as African Union (AU) peacekeeping soldiers fire warning shots to disperse a crowd near the district of Miskine in Bangui, Feb. 7, 2014.
Nick Long
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says it may have to discontinue rescue flights for people at risk of violence in the Central African Republic unless more funding arrives quickly.  
The IOM is the main international organization helping to evacuate non - C.A.R. citizens from Bangui. Since early January it has chartered 20 flights from the capital, enabling nearly 5,000 third-country nationals to leave.

Most of these people were Muslims, from Chad, Cameroon, Mali, Niger, Sudan and Senegal.  Since last year, when the largely Muslim rebel group Seleka seized power in Bangui, sectarian violence has killed thousands and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.

Muslims are the minority in the C.A.R.  They have been increasingly vulnerable, and as many Chadians and Sudanese were believed involved in the Seleka, third-country nationals are particularly at risk.

The IOM has appealed for $17.5 million for the C.A.R. but has only received $2.5 million.

IOM Director-General William Swing used to be United States ambassador to the C.A.R., and says he barely recognized Bangui when he flew back here three days ago. The city's physical and social fabric has deteriorated badly.

Swing says more than half the money his organization has spent on the C.A.R., between $5-$6 million,  has come from its own emergency fund.

"Now that money has been drawn down to the last couple of million and we’re guarding that money fairly prudently now to see if more comes in from donors. A lot now depends on more funding coming. In fact we will probably have to slow down or even cease for a couple of days early next week," said Swing.

IOM has identified a further 10,000 third-country nationals in Bangui who want to be evacuated, and more are arriving from the interior of the country. The cost of evacuation is about $1,000 per person, and IOM is also funding secure waiting sites for people at risk.

Swing says donor funding for evacuations from this crisis has been nothing like the response to previous needs.

"In March 2011 when the Libyan crisis broke, working with our traditional partner UNHCR, together we were able to evacuate 229,000 migrant workers from 54 countries. We did that for about $125 million but we got a lot of in-kind support from the UK, France and the US, in planes and pilots," he said.

Swing praised the international peacekeeping forces in Bangui for their success in stabilizing the city. The UN reports much less violence in Bangui in the past week than in previous weeks as African Union forces have deployed more widely.

Massacres and ethnic cleansing have continued in the interior of the country, however.

Many of those most at risk are Central African citizens; IOM does not have a mandate to evacuate them but is trying to assist them.

An IOM researcher in Bangui, Francois Goemans, told VOA the organization is trying to discover where Muslim ethnic Peul communities are trying to take refuge.

The Peul with their large herds of cattle have been coming under attack. As most of the Peul in the C.A.R. are Central African, evacuation, even if were possible, is not the ideal solution.

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