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CAR Refugee, Displacement Crisis Hits Record High

FILE - Families living in a refugee camp prepare food in Kaga-Bandoro, Central African Republic, Tuesday Feb. 16, 2016.

The displacement crisis in Central African Republic has reached record levels and is the worst since conflict erupted there in 2013, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

The UNHCR reports the total number of people displaced by conflict in Central African Republic now stands at more than 1.1 million. This includes more than 500,000 people who fled to neighboring countries in search of refuge, and another 600,000 who are internally displaced.

Refugees had been returning to C.A.R. gradually since the end of last year as peace efforts began to pay off; however, the UNHCR says all this came to a halt in mid-May. That is when fierce clashes erupted among armed groups, leading to a new wave of displacement, increased suffering, death and destruction of property.

Much of the violence is taking place along the border with countries of refuge, UNHCR spokeswoman Aikaterini Kitidi told VOA.

"You see people crossing the border directly in a very bad situation — wounded, and with many of their relatives killed," Kitidi said. "The people have told us many stories of looting of properties, of destruction of properties, of sexual crimes, of killings, many atrocities taking place."

The UNHCR reports more than 167,000 refugees have fled to Democratic Republic of Congo, nearly 40 percent due to the recent fighting in C.A.R. Refugee arrivals also have increased in Cameroon, Republic of Congo and Chad.

About 15 armed groups fighting in C.A.R. include the former Muslim Seleka, the Christian Anti-Balaka and splinter groups from these main fighting forces. Aid agencies, including the UNHCR, report their staff increasingly are among those targeted by armed groups, forcing their temporary withdrawal.

The violence is impeding the delivery of critical aid to the displaced, the UNHCR says, adding that increased insecurity in the country is preventing aid agencies from assessing the full extent of damage or displacement. The agency says the presence of armed groups also has delayed or blocked some planned deliveries of humanitarian aid by air.