Almost 20,000 CAR refugees flood into eastern Cameroon this month

News Stories, 21 February 2014

© UNHCR/K.Daimon
Refugees from Central African Republic gather at a site in eastern Cameroon.

GENEVA, February 21 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency reported on Friday a sharp rise this month in the number of refugees fleeing to Cameroon from Central African Republic (CAR), with almost 20,000 sheltering in the east after fleeing the violence in their homeland.

"Since the beginning of February, a total of 19,565 refugees from CAR have crossed into Cameroon to escape violence perpetrated by the former Seleka and anti-Balaka militiamen in Bangui and other towns in north-western CAR," UNHCR spokesman Dan McNorton told journalists in Geneva. "The latest influx brings to 35,142 the total number of CAR refugees who have fled to Cameroon since March 2013, when the Seleka rebels came to power in CAR.

"Our colleagues in Garoua Boulay in eastern Cameroon witnessed the arrival on February 16 of 100 trucks carrying civilians from CAR. Additionally, some 3,000 people have been reported to have crossed the border into the town of Yokadouma in the south-east of Cameroon," McNorton said.

He added that they were coming from the Central African Republic capital, Bangui, and from localities such as Bossemptele, Bouar, Baboua, Beloko, Carnot, Boaro, Gambala, Berberati and Nola in the west of their country. "We started on Monday the registration of those new arrivals in Garoua Boulay, and our colleagues are in Yokadouma to verify new arrivals," McNorton said.

The growing number of new arrivals and their need for food and other basic necessities has resulted in higher prices and shortages of goods. Many of the refugees are living in appalling conditions, lacking sufficient food and shelter. Host communities have taken in many people, but they cannot share their homes and resources with everyone. Moreover, rent increases are also affecting local residents.

"We began to move refugees from Garoua Boulay to the new site at Mborguene, which can host up to 10,000 people. Meanwhile, we are also looking at another site in Lolo, 46 kilometres from the border in the eastern region, which can take up to 15,000 refugees," McNorton said.

In a separate development, 7,921 third-country nationals have arrived in Cameroon from Central African Republic. They are mainly from Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger and are being repatriated by their governments. As of today, 2,774 have been repatriated. Before the current crisis, Cameroon was hosting 92,000 refugees from Central African Republic; the first started to arrive in 2006 to escape from rebel groups and bandits in the north of their country.

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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.