UNHCR urges stepped up help for CAR and South Sudan refugees

News Stories, 4 March 2014

© UNHCR/A.Greco
A displaced Central African woman ponders her situation in the shelter of a church in Boali, a town north of Bangui. She and others like her need the support of the international community.

GENEVA, March 4 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday said it was increasingly concerned about the immediate needs of refugees from Central African Republic and South Sudan arriving in neighbouring countries, in particular Chad, Cameroon and Ethiopia.

"We are appealing to our partners and the governments in these countries to help speed support to these populations which although still relatively small in number are nonetheless in urgent need of assistance," UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told journalists in Geneva.

The crises in South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR) have together caused one of the biggest refugee and IDP (internally displaced person) situations Africa has seen in recent years, forcibly displacing some 1.8 million people across a region with very sparse support capacities.

Within South Sudan, there are almost 740,000 people who are internally displaced and a further 196,000 sheltering in neighbouring countries. The UN estimates that by June as many as 3.2 million people could be in need of humanitarian help. Already food security is a problem.

In the Central African Republic, there are just over 700,000 IDPs and a further 290,000 have fled to other countries. More than half the country's 4.6 million people are currently in need of humanitarian help.

"In Chad, Cameroon, Ethiopia and other locations where refugees are arriving, the help effort for refugees arriving from these conflicts urgently needs stepping up," Fleming said.

In Cameroon, an estimated 30,820 refugees have arrived so far this year from the Central African Republic and are facing shortages of clean water, food and shelter. Many are in poor physical shape and suffering from malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections contracted while they had been in hiding in the bushes in CAR.

"Many children under the age of five are showing varying degrees of malnourishment, also related to lack of food in CAR. Pressures on local communities are also rising with the influx, and help is needed for them too," Fleming said.

She noted that in southern Chad, some 8,000 Central African Republic refugees are in the area around Sido. Many people are without shelter and are camping in the open beneath trees. Lack of clean water and a shortage of latrines are problems. "As existing refugee camps in this part of Chad are saturated with new arrivals, UNHCR is advocating with the government to identify a new site where we can better address refugees' pressing needs, particularly for food, clean water, latrines and health services," Fleming said.

In Ethiopia, UNHCR field staff have been seeing refugees arriving in poor condition due to the lack of food inside South Sudan and the long distances that many have had to walk to reach the Pagak and Akobo border areas. Medical screening last week revealed that 27.7 per cent of children were suffering from global acute malnutrition and 11.1 percent from severe acute malnutrition.

"With our partners, we have immediately put in place a blanket supplementary feeding programme for children under five years of age, and pregnant and lactating mothers," Fleming said, while adding that "the increasing numbers of new arrivals are outpacing available humanitarian resources."

Meanwhile, funding for both the Central African Republic and South Sudan emergencies remains far below needs: For CAR, the United Nations is seeking US$551 million for 2014, of which UNHCR's needs are US$112 million, of which only 9 per cent has been received so far. With South Sudan, the UN is seeking US$1.27 billion by June 2014, of which UNHCR's portion is US$55 million. The refugee agency has received only US$12.4 million of the amount it has requested.

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Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

Fighting rages on in various parts of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with seemingly no end in sight for hundreds of thousands of Congolese forced to flee violence and instability over the past two years. The ebb and flow of conflict has left many people constantly on the move, while many families have been separated. At least 1 million people are displaced in North Kivu, the hardest hit province. After years of conflict, more than 1,000 people still die every day - mostly of hunger and treatable diseases. In some areas, two out of three women have been raped. Abductions persist and children are forcefully recruited to fight. Outbreaks of cholera and other diseases have increased as the situation deteriorates and humanitarian agencies struggle to respond to the needs of the displaced.

When the displacement crisis worsened in North Kivu in 2007, the UN refugee agency sent emergency teams to the area and set up operations in several camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). Assistance efforts have also included registering displaced people and distributing non-food aid. UNHCR carries out protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs in North and South Kivu.

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Waves of fighting in eastern Democratic of the Republic since late April have displaced tens of thousands of people. Many have become internally displaced within the province, while others have fled to south-west Uganda's Kisoro district or to Rwanda via the Goma-Gisenyi crossing.

The stop-start clashes between government forces and renegade soldiers loyal to former rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda began in the province's Masisi and Walikale territories, but subsequently shifted to Rutshuru territory, which borders Uganda.

Between May 10-20, one of UNHCR's local NGO partners registered more than 40,000 internally displaced people (IDP) in Jomba and Bwesa sectors.

The IDPs are living in difficult conditions, staying in school buildings and churches or with host families. They lack food and shelter and have limited access to health facilities. Some of the displaced have reported cases of extortion, forced labour, beatings and recruitment of minors to fight.

UNHCR and other major aid organizations plan to distribute food, medicine and other aid. More than 300,000 people have been forcibly displaced in North and South Kivu since the start of the year, according to UN figures.

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The port city of Aden in southern Yemen has long been a destination for refugees, asylum-seekers and economic migrants after making the dangerous sea crossing from the Horn of Africa. Since May 2011, Aden also has been providing shelter to tens of thousands of Yemenis fleeing fighting between government forces and armed groups in neighbouring Abyan governorate.

Most of the 157,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from Abyan have found shelter with friends and relatives, but some 20,000 have been staying in dozens of public schools and eight vacant public buildings. Conditions are crowded with several families living together in a single classroom.

Many IDPs expected their displacement would not be for long. They wish to return home, but cannot do so due to the fighting. Moreover, some are fearful of reprisals if they return to areas where many homes were destroyed or severely damaged in bombings.

UNHCR has provided emergency assistance, including blankets, plastic sheeting and wood stoves, to almost 70,000 IDPs from Abyan. Earlier this year, UNHCR rehabilitated two buildings, providing shelter for 2,000 people and allowing 3,000 children, IDPs and locals, to resume schooling in proper classrooms. UNHCR is advocating with the authorities for the conversion of additional public buildings into transitional shelters for the thousands of IDPs still living in schools.

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