Rapid treatment saves seven-year-old CAR refugee chopped and left for dead

Telling the Human Story, 6 June 2014

© UNHCR/F.Noy
Ibrahim with his mother Djouma in Gbiti, Cameroon. The scar from his machete wound is clearly visible.

GBITI, Cameroon, June 6 (UNHCR) As Ibrahim plays happily in front of his mother in the Cameroonian border town of Gbiti, he looks like any other seven-year-old. But when he turns, visitors are taken aback by a deep scar in his head.

The ugly machete wound will be a life-long reminder of his brush with death at the hands of militiamen across the border in his native Central African Republic. He owes his life to the speedy intervention of UNHCR staff in Cameroon who spotted his terrible wound as he crossed a shallow river marking the border with Central African Republic. A chunk had been cut out of his head, exposing bone and part of the brain.

UNHCR rushed him to hospital in the town of Bertoua, a three-hour drive away from Gbiti. It was touch and go. In addition to his undressed wound, the boy was weak and malnourished from hiking through the bush to the safety of Cameroon with his parents. "During those two months, he did not sleep, he could not sleep, he did not stop crying," his mother Djoumba recalled.

Most of the people arriving in Gbiti are exhausted and in a precarious physical condition after fleeing brutal attacks on their homes by armed elements. Many are suffering from deep cuts or bullet wounds, but they count themselves lucky to be alive. The elements attack men, women and children and few of the young survive a wound as bad as that inflicted on Ibrahim.

UNHCR and its partners closely monitor the thousands of people crossing at Gbiti, keeping an eye out for people in need of medical assistance, especially malnutrition, but also physical injuries. Those needing hospitalization are taken to Bertoua, others are moved to refugee camps. Without this support from UNHCR and partners, like Médecins Sans Frontières, many would die.

Like many rural folk, Ibrahim's parents probably thought the inter-communal conflict that flared last December in Bangui would never come to them. But two months ago, as Ibrahim's father, Amadou, was out tending his cattle, a group of militiamen came to their home.

"They found me with my children in the house; they gathered all the small children and slaughtered them with machetes. They killed six people, including five children in my presence," 30-year-old Djoumba said. "Ibrahim was among the six children they took. When they hit him with the machetes, they thought he was dead."

The intruders wanted to take Djoumba with them, but left her behind when she resisted. "They left me lying on the floor next to Ibrahim. Shortly after that I realized that Ibrahim was still breathing," she explained.

When Amadou returned home, he found his wife and injured son and decided to leave their village immediately and head for safety in Cameroon. They could not dress Ibrahim's wound, but they washed it with hot water when possible, to try and reduce the risk of infection. But his parents thought Ibrahim would eventually die.

"We walked during two months, day and night. When we came to a river, we rested a little [before crossing]. We drank river waters and ate the meat of dead cows that we found on the way. The cows were also dying of hunger," Djoumba said.

Somehow they all reached the border alive, and it was fortuitous that they crossed into Cameroon at a spot where UNHCR staff were present and able to rush Ibrahim straight to hospital for the care he so desperately needed.

He was released from hospital after a month and joined his family in Gbiti, where they had built a shelter while they waited to be transferred to Mbile refugee camp, deeper inside Cameroon. Some 20,000 refugees have crossed at Gbiti so it takes time moving them all inland.

Today, Ibrahim's wound has healed and he plays happily with new friends. There has been no permanent brain damage, but he may need counselling for trauma. He was lucky, but he must have also had a strong will to fight for life. When he gets to the refugee camp, he will be able to resume his education.

Many of the children fleeing the brutality in Central African Republic never make it to neighbouring countries, including Cameroon, where UNHCR, MSF and other humanitarian actors will provide emergency assistance, including basic shelter and health care. They die in attacks or from starvation or disease on their way to safety.

By Céline Schmitt in Gbiti, Cameroon

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

Central African Republic: Urgent Appeal

You can help save the lives of thousands of refugees

Donate to this crisis

Crisis in the Central African Republic

Little has been reported about the humanitarian crisis in the northern part of the Central African Republic (CAR), where at least 295,000 people have been forced out of their homes since mid-2005. An estimated 197,000 are internally displaced, while 98,000 have fled to Chad, Cameroon or Sudan. They are the victims of fighting between rebel groups and government forces.

Many of the internally displaced live in the bush close to their villages. They build shelters from hay, grow vegetables and even start bush schools for their children. But access to clean water and health care remains a huge problem. Many children suffer from diarrhoea and malaria but their parents are too scared to take them to hospitals or clinics for treatment.

Cattle herders in northern CAR are menaced by the zaraguina, bandits who kidnap children for ransom. The villagers must sell off their livestock to pay.

Posted on 21 February 2008

Crisis in the Central African Republic

Silent Success

Despite being chased from their homes in the Central African Republic and losing their livelihoods, Mbororo refugees have survived by embracing a new way of life in neighbouring Cameroon.

The Mbororo, a tribe of nomadic cattle herders from Central African Republic, started fleeing their villages in waves in 2005, citing insecurity as well as relentless targeting by rebel groups and bandits who steal their cattle and kidnap women and children for ransom.

They arrived in the East and Adamaoua provinces of Cameroon with nothing. Though impoverished, the host community welcomed the new arrivals and shared their scant resources. Despite this generosity, many refugees died of starvation or untreated illness.

Help arrived in 2007, when UNHCR and partner agencies began registering refugees, distributing food, digging and rehabilitating wells as well as building and supplying medical clinics and schools, which benefit refugees and the local community and promote harmony between them. The Mbororo were eager to learn a new trade and set up farming cooperatives. Though success didn't come immediately, many now make a living from their crops.

Mbororo refugees continue to arrive in Central African Republic - an average of 50 per month. The long-term goal is to increase refugees' self-reliance and reduce their dependency on humanitarian aid.

Silent Success

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

Joint Appeal: Help Needed for Central African RefugeesPlay video

Joint Appeal: Help Needed for Central African Refugees

The UN refugee agency and its partners appealed for more donor support to cope with the continuing outflow and deteriorating condition of refugees from the Central African Republic.
Cameroon: A Young Victim of ViolencePlay video

Cameroon: A Young Victim of Violence

Militia attacks on civilians in Central African Republic have left many people, including children, dead or badly injured. Six-year-old Ibrahim is recovering from one such attack, lucky to be alive.
Cameroon:  Malnourished ChildrenPlay video

Cameroon: Malnourished Children

Some 80,000 people from Central African Republic have fled to Cameroon this year, many of them after walking for weeks or months through the bush with almost no food and water. Many of the children have severe malnutrition. UNHCR and its partners are rushing to help them.