The U.N. refugee agency says hundreds of Muslims in the Central African Republic threatened by mainly Christian militias must be urgently relocated to safer areas.
The UNHCR says 474 Muslims from the Peuhl ethnic minority have been trapped for months in the town of Yaloke, living in deplorable conditions. It says the besieged group is living in a state of fear, confined to an overcrowded site for internally displaced people.
The assessment team found severe malnourishment, malaria and tuberculosis. It says 42 people from the group that fled their homes in the Lobaye prefecture in April have since died.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said the situation needs quick action.
“We do not think it is tenable anymore, and for this reason we think it is important that people are brought to safer places ... This is an urgent situation. It has been going on for months. It is getting worse by the day," said Edwards. "It needs action quickly to deal with it.”
In February, Peuhl minorities were attacked by mainly Christian anti-Balaka militias in several towns in Lobaye prefecture to the west of Bangui.
The UNHCR reports that about 700 people fled their homes, hoping to find passage to Cameroon or Chad. But this did not happen.
Edwards said the Muslims spent several months on the run, hiding in the bush at night. He said many lost family members and friends.
“April saw more than 50 men killed in attacks by anti-Balakas, who also took around 7,000 head of cattle, which has major livelihood and economic implications for those affected," said Edwards. "Many people found sanctuary further north in Yaloke and were hoping to leave the country. Yaloke was once a thriving town home to 10,000 Muslims. Today, the displaced Peuhl are the only Muslims still there.”
Edwards said international forces posted in the region play a role in protecting people and have prevented atrocities. He said the Muslims in Yaloke still receive many threats, though, and are verbally and physically abused by the anti-Balaka.
The assessment team that visited the region says more than 90 percent of the people are desperate to leave for Cameroon or Chad. It says they pleaded for vehicles and security to help them to reach their destination safely.
Reprisal attacks between anti-Balaka and the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels have continued since last year in the Central African Republic.