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Violence in C.A.R. Sends Thousands Fleeing

FILE - People queue for food aid distribution delivered by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and world food program in the village of Makunzi Wali, Central African Republic, April 27, 2017.

A recent flare-up in violence in northwest Central African Republic has sent thousands fleeing for their lives. The U.N. refugee agency reports more than 5,000 refugees from CAR have arrived in southern Chad since December 27.

The new year is off to a bad start for thousands of people forced to flee clashes involving armed groups in the northwestern CAR town of Paoua. The U.N. refugee agency reports an estimated 5,600 refugees have fled to Chad. But, UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told VOA the number could be higher.

"Chad is the third largest refugee host for refugees from the Central African Republic with over 75,000 refugees already in the camps," he said. "UNHCR is registering the new arrivals. We are also working with our partners and government counterparts to provide aid and assistance to them."

Baloch said many of the refugees have walked long distances to escape the violence in their country and notes that Chad's border with CAR is officially closed. He said, though, the Chadian authorities, in a welcome humanitarian gesture, are allowing refugees to cross the border to seek protection inside Chadian territory.

Human rights abuses

"The influx is the largest movement of refugees from CAR, exceeding the total number for 2017, when about 2,000 fled into Chad," he said. "Many are reporting widespread human rights abuses committed by the members of these armed groups in the village alongside the CAR-Chad border."

The UNHCR warns that people are likely to continue to flee ongoing violence in CAR. It reports the serious deterioration in that country's humanitarian situation has boosted the number of refugees and internally displaced to the highest ever recorded for CAR — almost one-fourth of the population of some 4.6 million.

UNICEF reports more than 1.1 million people are displaced both within the country or as refugees. That means more than one in five Central Africans have been forced to flee their homes since civil war broke out a few years ago.