Despite U.N. and French peacekeeping troops deployed in the Central African Republic, sectarian violence remains high. Since early last year, thousands of people have been killed and nearly one-million displaced. Donor nations and aid agencies met in Brussels Monday to ensure the ongoing humanitarian crisis continues to be addressed.
In March of 2013, Muslim Seleka rebels toppled CAR’s government, seizing power in the mostly Christian country. But in the following months, many rebels began attacking Christian communities. The new government was not able to stop them and it relinquished power to a struggling interim replacement.
The Seleka attacks led to a backlash by anti-balaka militias, made up of Christians and animists. The ensuing violence drove Muslims from the capital Bangui and many other areas of the country. Both sides have committed atrocities. Civilians are the main targets.
A meeting was held in Brussels Monday including the U.S., the European Community’s Humanitarian Office and various U.N. and other aid agencies on addressing the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
Among those attending the meeting was Ambassador Stuart Symington, the State Department’s Special Representative to CAR.
He said, “The purpose of our meeting in Brussels was to focus the attention of all the member states and the organizations who attended on how much of a regional problem and challenge this is. Our goal was to inform them about the stakes and to congratulate those who have already made extraordinary efforts in very difficult places to work with the host country and others to save lives.”
He said that participants left the meeting with a better understanding of the scope of the problem.
“How much is at stake in the center of Africa? How important it is – not just because every single life of every citizen of the CAR matters – but also because this place holds promise and potential, not just for Africa, but for the world if we can get it right.”
He praised those nations that responded quickly to the crisis, including neighboring countries, France and the United States. Ambassador Symington outlined the immediate challenges ahead for CAR.
“One, to make sure that all of the leaders of Central African Republic focus on the way ahead, thinking of the interests of the nation and not of one piece of it. Two, that folks consider this transition government a bridge to the future,” he said.
Symington said the final challenge is for the regional and international communities to continue to invest in the future of CAR. Otherwise, he says, the human sacrifice and treasure that’s been spent will have been in vain.
Liza Ahua, the UNHCR’s Deputy Regional Coordinator for CAR, described the scope of displacement as a result of the violence.
“If you did look at that from the perspective of over 400,000 refugees – and another 400,000 IDPs – in a country of 4.5-million people you’re talking essentially of 20-percent of the population that is in displacement.”
She said many of country’s social programs are in disarray.
“Schools are not running. Health centers are functioning at a very, very low level -- and some of them not at all. So, basically, the facilities are non-existent in almost all the sectors. Food is problematic. So, you are indeed dealing with a huge crisis in the CAR with ramifications in the region.”
The UNHCR regional coordinator said about $260-million dollars is needed just this year to meet humanitarian needs. She says only a fraction of that appeal has been received.
Margaret McKelvey, Africa Office Director in the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, said the many refugees that have crossed into Cameroon are placing a strain on that country’s resources.
“The government in Cameroon is starting along a path of saying people really should be in camps for security reasons and also to concentrate them. So that it’s easier to provide assistance. And, of course, Cameroon is also being hit with refugees coming from Nigeria because of the Boko Haram crisis,” she said
One purpose of the meeting, she said, was to ensure that CAR does not become a neglected crisis.
Ambassador Symington added that peace is possible, but it will take a lot of work.
“There are extraordinary acts of goodness every day in CAR by leaders who genuinely care about their country -- religious leaders, civic leaders, women and men. The great question that we have is how will the people of CAR with our help come together? Security is not going to be achieved by force alone, but rather by getting those people, who would create violence, to decide that there is more danger for their futures in fomenting it and for those who seek a peaceful solution to come together across the aisle and agree on it,” he said.
He said the question is how to make the people of CAR capable of sustaining peace over time?