Aid workers in the Central African Republic are struggling to keep track of hundreds of thousands of people displaced by conflict. In Bambari, a town on the frontline of the CAR’s inter-community violence, aid groups are saying the displaced people need to be counted.
Census, population count
The international non-governmental organization Triangle is one group publicly calling for a head count of the population living in Bambari’s displacement sites. Other groups are saying the same thing privately.
Renan Aufray is in charge of Triangle’s work for displaced people in Bambari. VOA accompanied him to one of the sites.
He says there has not been a proper count at the site for a long time, so there is no precise figure for its population and as a result Triangle’s work is inevitably a bit random.
Aufray hears many complaints at the sites that aid is not being distributed fairly. He admits this is likely, as there are no reliable lists of who is there and when they arrived.
Common complaint: aid distributed unfairly
One man complained that there are displaced people who came to the site in June who still have not received anything from the World Food Program.
Another frequent complaint at the site is about cash for work opportunities.
Another man complains that others who came to the site after he did have received cash for work while he is still waiting. He says this is because the supervisors give the work to people they know.
Exploitation: anti-balaka militia blend into population
Aid workers also say privately that there are many anti-balaka militia in the camps who are exploiting the others.
Yes, the anti-balaka are here, a man confirms. VOA asked him if the anti-balaka protect people, and while he was thinking about that question a young man carrying a club stepped forward and said ‘yes’.
Yes, I am an anti-balaka, says the young man, adding that there are many of the militia at the site.
The anti-balaka collect money from businesses at the sites and also exercise social control - even getting involved in marital disputes, according to aid workers.
The militia is believed to have stirred up a witch hunt at one of the Bambari sites that resulted in two women having their ears cut off. One of these women took refuge at the UNHCR base for 11 days and was then flown to the capital, Bangui.
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, has overall responsibility for monitoring displaced people in Bambari and elsewhere in the CAR.
The deputy head of UNHCR for the country is Francesco Ardisson.
He tells VOA that while the agency registers refugees (people displaced from another country) there is normally no registration of people displaced inside their own country. Instead the agency estimates their number at each location by identifying households or families.
In general, UNHCR relies on community leaders to supply figures for households and household members, and then makes estimates based on those figures.
There could be a tendency to exaggerate the figures, says Ardisson. That’s common at all sites for refugees and displaced people, he says, adding that the challenge is to revise those figures regularly so that the aid response is realistic and not exaggerated.
But, he says, any registration of people would be out of date within weeks, because the displaced often move back and forth between their homes and displacement sites, as the security situation permits.
As for protecting people from witchcraft accusations, Ardisson says that regrettably these are common in this region where so-called witches are killed every month, and the agency cannot be expected to change social attitudes overnight.