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Sudanese Refugees in CAR Being Moved to Secure Site

  • Lisa Schlein

The U.N. refugee agency is relocating thousands of Sudanese refugees from a volatile border region in northern Central African Republic to a safer place in the south-central part of the country.

The U.N. refugee agency says it is airlifting 3,500 Sudanese refugees in the Central African Republic (CAR) to a safer location. About 500 people have been moved since last week. The agency says it expects the airlift to take more than a month to complete.

Most of the refugees at Sam Ouandja camp come from Dafak, about 200 kilometers away in Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region. UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, says they fled on foot in June, 2007 to escape fighting.

He says conditions at the camp have become increasingly difficult. The area is plagued by armed rebels and bandits, a situation made worse by the spillover of the Darfur conflict.

Mahecic says the deteriorating security situation is a major reason why the refugees are being moved to a safer location.

"Sam Ouandja lies only 80 kilometers from the border with Darfur in an area with almost no government, and the camp has found itself being frequently visited by the fighters," said Mahecic. "Also, the presence of armed bandits and rebels, and the withdrawal of the MINURCAT, the U.N. peace-keeping mission securing the camp, are further reasons for the move. Secondly, we are facing extreme logistical difficulties in monitoring and assisting refugees in this remote part of the CAR. Poor road conditions have limited our ability to transport aid to the camp."

Mahecic says the UNHCR has had to stop its monthly distribution of food and other assistance to the refugees in the Central African Republic. Because of the difficulties, it only has been possible to deliver the much-needed aid every two or three months.

During the rainy season, he says the situation becomes even worse. He says it takes, on average, about 10 days for the trucks loaded with aid to cover some 950 kilometers between the CAR capital Bangui and Sam Ouandja camp.

He says the new camp lies just outside Bambari, a five-hour drive from Bangui. He says this will greatly facilitate the distribution of aid to the refugees.