Hundreds of displaced Muslims trapped in a town in the Central African Republic are becoming more vulnerable by the day, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR.
The agency is calling for this group of people to be relocated, and discussions with the C.A.R. government are expected in the coming days.
About 500 Muslims, mainly ethnic Peuls, have been in the town of Yaloke in western C.A.R. since fleeing there nine months ago to escape hostile Christian and animist anti-balaka militia.
In Yaloke, they have had some protection from French and United Nations peacekeepers, and have been receiving some food aid. But they are trapped in a small area and unable to move outside it for fear of attacks. Health conditions have deteriorated.
A mission led by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Bangui recently visited Yaloke to provide medical help.
The doctor with the mission, Elkana Ndwatcha, told VOA the Peuls’ situation is deplorable, and action must be taken urgently to save them. He described their living conditions as appalling.
He said 40 people in the group died between April and December. Aid agencies say that figure includes 13 children. They say it’s a far higher mortality rate than in the surrounding community, where only one death of a child was reported in the same period.
The main causes of mortality among the children have been malaria and malnutrition, said Ndawatcha. Many of the children, he said, displayed typical signs of protein deficiency - badly swollen feet, cheeks and eyelids, and emaciated bodies.
He adds that the archbishop spoke with the community’s leaders, who said the Peul want to leave Yaloke and go to Cameroon, where they will be accepted and will be able to earn their living.
The team evacuated one Peul family with a very sick child to Bangui. En route they were stopped at a checkpoint by anti-balaka who threatened to murder the entire family.
Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga and his team protected the Peul family from attack, and the convoy managed to continue.
The UN refugee agency also recently sent a mission to Yaloke, the second time UNHCR has visited the Peul community there since August. On both visits, UNHCR found that more than 90 percent of the Peuls wanted to leave the country, and were asking for an escort so they could do so safely.
Human Rights Watch said in a report earlier this month that the government and the UN peacekeeping mission have a policy of not supporting evacuations of Muslims from the west of the C.A.R.
A spokesperson for UNHCR told VOA it has been advocating for the relocation of the Peul community from Yaloke for the past four months.
Asked if UNHCR had made this call publicly, the spokesperson said, “maybe not publicly, but within the humanitarian community.”