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UNHCR: No Access to CAR Refugees

A picture released by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without borders, MSF) shows refugees at the Kanuyaruchinya IDP camp, November 4, 2012.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says it is very concerned about its inability to gain access to tens of thousands of refugees and displaced civilians caught in the fighting in the Central African Republic. The UNHCR says it is critical to provide humanitarian, potentially life-saving help to these people.

The U.N. refugee agency says it is seeking immediate and unconditional access to the tens of thousands of refugees and CAR civilians displaced by the recent fighting in the north and east of the country.

It notes the Central African Republic is one of the poorest and most deprived nations in the world. As such, it says it fears these homeless civilians face deteriorating, potentially life-threatening living conditions.

On Thursday, rebels who control one-third of the country agreed to a one-week ceasefire.

While the U.N. refugee agency welcomes this development, it regards it with caution. The agency’s spokesman, Adrian Edwards, says the UNHCR fears many more people will be affected, including some 700,000 in Bangui, if full-scale fighting resumes.

“We have received reports of thousands of people being displaced in the north and east of the country since the start of the Seleka advance about a month ago. About 800,000 people were believed to be living in the affected areas when the current crisis erupted," he said. "We are very concerned about the general welfare of displaced civilians, many of whom live under harsh conditions and in remote settlements, as well as conditions for refugees from countries including South Sudan, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

The UNHCR says the CAR hosts some 17,000 refugees and about 2,500 asylum-seekers. Because of security concerns, international staff from the World Food Program (WFP) and other United Nations agencies were evacuated to neighboring Cameroon. The agencies have suspended their operations in the CAR, which is proving to be a great hardship for the population.

Prior to the suspension, WFP had been feeding 300,000 people in the CAR. Last Tuesday, the agency confirmed that hundreds of tons of food aid had been looted from its warehouses in three rebel-held cities.

UNHCR spokesman Edwards says his agency also recently received confirmation that its office in the Bambari camp, in the central part of the country, was looted. This occurred on December 28 after the staff was evacuated.

He says the UNHCR is worried about some 2,000 Sudanese refugees in the Bambari camp, which is located in an area under rebel control.