The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) says it, along with other United Nations humanitarian agencies, is launching a relief operation Wednesday for thousands of people from the Central African Republic (CAR) who have taken refuge in Cameroon.   Lisa Schlein reports for VOA in Geneva the UNHCR says this is the first major coordinated operation by U.N. agencies for CAR refugees in Cameroon.

The U.N. refugee agency says the operation is critical for some 26,000 refugees who fled insecurity in the Central African Republic.  The agency says they now are living in precarious circumstances scattered along the eastern border of Cameroon.

UNHCR Spokeswoman, Jennifer Pagonis, says the refugees are mainly Mbororo nomadic cattle herders from west and northwest CAR  She says they have arrived in Cameroon in several waves since 2005.

"They have fled insecurity," she said.  "What they say is relentless targeting by rebel groups and bandits who steal their cattle and kidnap their women and children for ransom.  So, most crossed over by foot.  A few managed to come over with their cattle who continue to graze in Cameroon.  And, the last recorded arrivals were in February this year." 

Pagonis says getting food and supplies to the refugees poses huge challenges.  She says the refugees are living in 50 sites spread over thousands of kilometers along the border with the CAR and that the area is hard to reach. 

Pagonis says the rainy season will start shortly and this may hamper the delivery of aid.   In addition, she says the area is dangerous.  Aid workers will have to be on the look out for bandits who are everywhere. 

Among items to be delivered are blankets, plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, materials for hygiene and medicines.

Pagonis says the UNHCR is coordinating the humanitarian operation.

"The World Food Program is pre-positioning rations for six months for these refugees," he added.  "UNICEF is working on the nutritional status of some of the children who are in pretty poor condition and UNFPA is helping on the reproductive health and maternal mortality side of events." 

The U.N. agencies report all the refugees are in bad condition, but women and children are most vulnerable.

They report up to18 percent of infants are malnourished.  They say the infant mortality rate is exceedingly high.