Almost 9,000 people flee from CAR to Cameroon to escape fresh tension and violence

News Stories, 7 February 2014

© UNHCR/B.Ntwari
A view of thousands of internally displaced people at Bangui's airport. Many of the new arrivals in eastern Cameroon say they fled from Bangui to escape clashes.

GENEVA, February 7 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency said on Friday that almost 9,000 people have fled to Cameroon in the past 10 days to escape violence in the Central African Republic.

UNHCR spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba told journalists in Geneva that during this period 8,762 people of various nationalities had crossed into the town of Kentzou in eastern Cameroon, mostly Central Africans (4,764) but including nationals from Chad (3,424), Cameroon (1,497), Nigeria (43) and Mali (10). This brings the number of CAR refugees in Cameroon to more than 20,000 since the CAR crisis began.

"The new arrivals told UNHCR staff they fled because of confrontations between the former Seleka and anti-Balaka militiamen in the capital, Bangui, and other towns in the north- west, such as Bour, Baboua, Beloko and Cantonnier. Some also fled from intense fighting in the areas of Berberati, Carnot, Baoro and Gambala. Others fled because of fear that the anti-Balaka militiamen were advancing towards their areas," Lejeune-Kaba said.

The Central Africans registered by UNHCR as refugees are mainly women and children and include 43 pregnant women and 89 people living with disability and in need of special attention. "The majority of them are Muslims who say they feared for their safety because of their perceived sympathy for the largely Muslim Seleka group," Lejeune-Kaba added.

Living conditions are precarious for the new arrivals, who are either hosted by impoverished local families or living in mosques, a stadium or on the streets. UNHCR is completing a nearby campsite and plans to transfer refugees there by the end of next week.

Lejeune-Kaba said UNHCR had also approached various embassies to take charge of their citizens. Before the current crisis, Cameroon was hosting 92,000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR), who started to arrive in 2004 to escape from rebel groups and bandits in the north of their country.

People fleeing recent inter-communal violence in CAR are also heading to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Since Saturday, the DRC has received above 1,500 refugees and more are arriving daily. They came from areas still under the control of Seleka elements who, they say, are abusing civilians.

With the latest arrivals, there are now more than 60,000 CAR refugees who have sought asylum in the DRC, due to atrocities committed by the Seleka earlier in the conflict, and most recently due to recurrent fighting as well as indiscriminate attacks by armed Muslim and Christian mobs. Since the beginning of the conflict in December 2012, close to 246,000 CAR civilians have become refugees across the region.

Almost 840,000 people also remain displaced inside the Central African Republic. With no immediate prospect for their return home as the rainy season begins, UNHCR fears a worsening humanitarian crisis. There is a high risk of cholera and other public health issues, particularly in Bangui, where more than 413,000 people still live in makeshift sites.

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Edwige Deals With Loss by Keeping Busy and Aiding Others in Mole Camp

Edwige Kpomako is a woman in a hurry; but her energy also helps the refugee from Central African Republic (CAR) to cope with the tragedy that forced her to flee to northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last year. Before violence returned to her country in 2012, the 25-year-old was studying for a Masters in American literature in Bangui, and looking forward to the future. "I started my thesis on the works of Arthur Miller, but because of the situation in CAR . . . ," she said, her voice trailing off. Instead, she had to rush to the DRC with a younger brother, but her fiancée and 10-year old son were killed in the inter-communal violence in CAR.

After crossing the Oubangui River to the DRC, Edwige was transferred to Mole, a camp housing more than 13,000 refugees. In a bid to move on with her life and keep busy, she started to help others, assume a leadership role and take part in communal activities, including the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. She heads the women's committee, is engaged in efforts to combat sexual violence, and acts as a liaison officer at the health centre. She also teaches and runs a small business selling face creams. "I discovered that I'm not weak," said Edwige, who remains optimistic. She is sure that her country will come out of its nightmare and rebuild, and that she will one day become a human rights lawyer helping refugees.

American photojournalist Brian Sokol took these photos.

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New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

Since January 2014, a funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations by 60 per cent in refugee camps in southern Chad. The reduction comes as thousands of refugees from Central African Republic (CAR) continue to arrive in the south - more than 14,000 of them since the beginning of 2014. Many arrive sick, malnourished and exhausted after walking for months in the bush with little food or water. They join some 90,000 other CAR refugees already in the south - some of them for years.

The earlier refugees have been able to gain some degree of self-reliance through agriculture or employment, thus making up for some of the food cuts. But the new arrivals, fleeing the latest round of violence in their homeland, are facing a much harsher reality. And many of them - particularly children - will struggle to survive because WFP has also been forced cut the supplemental feeding programmes used to treat people trying to recover from malnutrition.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

Photojournalist Corentin Fohlen and UNHCR Public Information Officer Céline Schmitt visited CAR refugees in southern Chad to document their plight and how they're trying to cope.

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The violence and conflict in the Central African Republic has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes since mid-December. Many have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, including 80,000 in Cameroon. During the trauma and confusion of flight, families often become separated. They face many dangers on the way to safety, and their journey can take many weeks. Ramatou, a 45-year-old mother of 11 children, was separated from three of her sons and her husband when militiamen attacked her village in January. She ran in one direction with eight children and eventually made it to Cameroon with the help of African Union peace-keepers. Her husband and three sons ran in a different direction and endured many ordeals in the bush, becoming separated again. Earlier this month, Ramatou was reunited in Cameroon's Mbile Refugee Camp with the two youngest boys. She was overjoyed, but dismayed that they were on their own. She still hopes for her husband and eldest son to turn up. Photographer Fred Noy was there at the emotional reunion.

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