Muslims who fled attacks in the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui over the past 10 months are starting to return, only to find their homes looted and destroyed.
Tens of thousands of Muslims fled the inter-communal violence that broke out in Bangui last December. Many went to neighboring Cameroon and Chad.
As they return home to the majority Muslim neighborhood of PK5 PK5, they are finding that life remains difficult.
Moussa Hassan stands looking at the ruins of the house it took him 14 years to build. The anti-balaka militia destroyed it back in December in a matter of hours.
“I’m back at zero,” he says.
Hassan came back alone. He left his family, more than 50 people, in Chad.
He says “returning was not an easy decision. Life in Bangui is difficult, but it’s my home.”
He’s looking to reopen his shop where he used to sell bricks and cement in the sprawling market, the heart of PK5, along the main road.
His shop was looted by the anti-balaka.
The young entrepreneur is looking to rebuild his stock. With so many buildings and homes destroyed there are business opportunities in Bangui for those who have the courage to return to the city still plagued by retaliatory attacks and tit-for-tat violence.
His neighbor, Moustapha Younous, came back a week ago from Cameroon.
Younous is busy going through the rubble that was once his home looking for anything he can use in the new house he found in another area of the capital.
He says “windows, doors, even the electrical cables, they took everything.”
Younous’ wife and children are still in Cameroon. He needs to get them a safe place to live before he can bring them back.
So far, it’s mostly men who have returned to PK5.
Still dangerous situation
Despite the presence of U.N. peacekeeping forces, random attacks persist.
The day after Moustapha Younous arrived back here, two Muslim men were killed not far away. Taxi drivers refuse to take customers on the main road because it is considered too dangerous. There is an invisible barrier here that few dare to cross.
At least 400 houses in PK5 were destroyed. Younous says they are getting little help from the government.
He says he can’t go to the justice system to get his stolen goods back or to be reimbursed. He says that is not an option for a Muslim right now. He says he “leaves it up to God.”
Still, he says, being back is better than life in the refugee camp.
Nearly one million people remain displaced in the C.A.R. or in neighboring countries.