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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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.