UNHCR seeks immediate access to refugees and displaced civilians in Central African Republic

News Stories, 11 January 2013

© UNHCR/D.Mbaiorem
Children displaced by violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) attend an open-air class at a camp last year.

GENEVA, January 11 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency is seeking immediate and unconditional access to tens of thousands of refugees and civilians displaced by the recent fighting in the north and east of Central African Republic (CAR), one of the poorest and most deprived nations.

"We believe that these civilians face deteriorating living conditions and that they need urgent and potentially life-saving help," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva.

He added that while UNHCR welcomed the one-week ceasefire announced on Thursday during peace talks in Gabon between the CAR government, the Séléka rebel alliance and opposition parties, "We fear that many more people will be affected, including some 700,000 in the capital [Bangui], if full-scale fighting resumes.

It is impossible to give precise figures for the number of newly displaced because of the fluid security situation and lack of access to rebel-held areas, but UNHCR has received reports of thousands of people being displaced in the north and east since the start of the Séléka advance about a month ago. Some 800,000 people were believed to be living in the affected areas when the current crisis erupted.

"We are extremely concerned about the general welfare of displaced civilians, many of whom live under harsh conditions and in remote settlements, as well as of refugees from countries including South Sudan, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo," Edwards stressed.

The Central African Republic hosts some 17,000 refugees and 2,500 asylum-seekers. "We call on all sides to respect the human rights of all civilians and to allow humanitarian access to them," the UNHCR spokesman said.

He added that UNHCR was particularly worried about some 2,000 Sudanese refugees in the Bambari camp, in the central part of the country an area under rebel control. UNHCR is trying to re-establish contact with this refugee population. There were confirmed reports that the UNHCR office there was looted on December 28 after the staff were evacuated. Another UNHCR office, in Kaga-Bandoro, has also been looted.

The current crisis in the country has also led to a small number of people fleeing to neighbouring countries. UNHCR staff have registered 286 refugees from CAR in the Nord-Oubangui region of Democratic Republic of the Congo's Equateur province. "We are also investigating reports that some refugees have arrived in southern Chad," Edwards said in Geneva.

Meanwhile the looting of several World Food Programme warehouses in Bria, Bambari and Kaga Bandoro could cause serious delays to food distribution to refugees in Bambari, Zemio and Batalimo. UNHCR and the WFP are looking for a quick solution for resuming food aid.

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2014: CAR refugees attacked as they flee to Cameroon

Each week 10,000 Muslims cross into eastern Cameroon to escape the violence consuming the Central African Republic (CAR). Many new arrivals report that they have been repeatedly attacked as they fled. The anti-Balaka militiamen have blocked main roads to Cameroon, forcing people to find alternate routes through the bush. Many are walking two to three months to reach Cameroon, arriving malnourished and bearing wounds from machetes and gunshots.

UNHCR and its partners have established additional mobile clinics at entry points to provide emergency care as refugees arrive. The UN refugee agency is also supporting public health centres that have been overwhelmed by the number of refugees and their condition.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has relocated some 20,000 refugees who had been living in the open in the Garoua Bouai and Kenzou border areas, bringing them to new sites at Lolo, Mborguene, Gado and Borgop in the East and Adamwa regions.

Since the beginning of the year, Cameroon has received nearly 70,000 refugees from CAR, adding to the 92,000 who fled in earlier waves since 2004 to escape rebel groups and bandits in the north of their country.

UNHCR staff members Paul Spiegel and Michele Poletto recently travelled to eastern Cameroon and have the following photos to share from their iPhone and camera.

2014: CAR refugees attacked as they flee to Cameroon

Central African Republic: Crossing the Oubangui to Home and Safety

The escalating violence in Central African Republic (CAR) has caught everyone in its web, including refugees from countries such as Chad, Cameroon and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). For the Congolese living in places like the CAR capital, Bangui, or the town of Batalimo, home was just a short trip away across the Oubangui River. UNHCR earlier this year agreed to help those who wished to repatriate due to fear for their safety. The refugee agency has since mid-January facilitated the return home of hundreds of these refugees. The following photographs, taken earlier this month by UNHCR staff members Dalia Al Achi and Hugo Reichenberger, depict the repatriation of a group of 364 Congolese. The refugees portrayed were heading to the riverside town of Zongo in Democratic Republic of the Congo's Equateur province, where they spent a night in a transit centre before continuing to their hometowns. They were relieved to be leaving, and some were in poor health. The decision to return to the country they had fled during the years of civil war from 1996-2003 was not easy. Some 6,000 of the 17,000 Congolese refugees in Central African Republic have registered with UNHCR to go home.

Central African Republic: Crossing the Oubangui to Home and Safety

The Most Important Thing: Central African Republic Refugees

Over the past year, the UN refugee agency has run a series of photosets on its website by American photographer Brian Sokol focusing on the possessions that refugees take with them when they are forced to flee from their homes. We started last August with Sudanese refugees in South Sudan and have since covered refugees from Syria and Mali.

Last year, Sokol visited the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to ask refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) the same question: What is the most important thing you brought with you? He again received interesting answers from a wide range of people from rural and urban areas of CAR, where inter-communal violence has spiralled out of control. They are featured here and include a sandal that helped an old woman, a pair of crutches used by a man to reach safety and a boy's photo of his slain father. Another boy named the family members who escaped to safety with him as his most important possession - many would feel the same.

Tens of thousands of people have fled from CAR to neighbouring countries since December 2012, including 60,000 into northern DRC. Some 30,000 of them live in four refugee camps set up by UNHCR and the others are hosted by local families. For the majority, there was no time to pack before escaping. They fled extreme violence and chaos and arrived exhausted and traumatized in the DRC. They could take only the most essential and lightest belongings. The photos here were taken at Batanga Transit Centre, Boyabo Refugee Camp and Libenge village.

The Most Important Thing: Central African Republic Refugees

UNHCR's Dr. Paul Spiegel on the Border of CAR  and CameroonPlay video

UNHCR's Dr. Paul Spiegel on the Border of CAR and Cameroon

This video was shot by one of our staff* using a mobile phone as they helped refugees who had crossed the river to safety.
Central African Republic: Torn CommunitiesPlay video

Central African Republic: Torn Communities

For more than a year, inter-communal strife has displaced tens of thousands of people in the Central African Republic. But amid the violence, efforts are being made to promote reconciliation.
Central African Republic : Bangui Airport RefugePlay video

Central African Republic : Bangui Airport Refuge

UNHCR's High Commissioner António Guterres visits Central African Republic and meets internally displaced people in Bangui airport. He says the international community needs to give the CAR crisis the same focus as the emergencies in Syria and South Sudan.