Central African Republic: New violence displaces 88,000 in past month

Muslim refugees rest inside the Catholic Church in Carnot, Central African Republic. (Credit: AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

A surge in fighting between rebel groups in the Central African Republic displaced more than 88,000 people in the past month, U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR) officials said.

It raises the number of people displaced in the country to 500,000 people, the most since August 2014 – a year after rebels captured the capital and forced then-President François Bozizé to flee. A lull in violence over the past year helped restore some stability to the country, but the recent fighting has humanitarian groups concerned and they are calling for more international support.

“More funds are urgently needed,” UNHCR Spokesman Babar Baloch told the media today. “Significant rebel activity on towns along the DRC border as well as rumors of possible attacks are pushing people to flee in the Haute Kotto and Mbomou prefectures inside CAR.”

Fighting between predominantly Christian and Muslim militias intensified in recent weeks. While a new government is in place, groups loyal to Bozizé continue to battle with former members of the rebel group that overthrew him. Two weeks ago 22 people died – including 17 civilians – in the town of Bira.

Some of the attacks fall along ethnic lines, fueling concerns that a further escalation could result in ethnic cleansing. The UNHCR documented violence that has taken place there with impunity over the past 13 years. The report included 620 incidents that range from extrajudicial killings to gang rapes to recruitment of child soldiers.

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“Successive conflicts have spawned multiple peace processes, but as long as impunity reigns, this terrible trajectory – with each armed group committing appalling acts of violence – may continue,” U.N. Special Representative for the Central African Republic Parfait Onanga-Anyanga said in a statement. “In documenting the violations and abuses of the past, we hope to galvanize national and international efforts to protect and bring justice to the victims of these crimes.”

The report offers a series of recommendations that are centered on improving the justice system so that perpetrators of violence can be held accountable. It also calls on a truth and reconciliation commission, a body utilized in other post-conflict countries to investigate and document what happened in order to help the peace process.

The recent surge in violence makes that difficult. In addition to displacing people, attacks are destroying schools and hospitals. An armed man attacked staff and patients in a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital in Bangassou hospital last week. Such incidents “endanger the capacity to continue providing medical care,” Operations Director Brice de le Vingne said.

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Disruptions to medical support leave many without access to care at a time when malaria is about to reach its peak in the country. Access to embattled regions is difficult, UNHCR officials said. Doctors Without Borders also said that a vaccine program did not reach at least 6,000 children this month due to the fighting.

The coordinated humanitarian response for the Central African Republic calls for $400 million for 2017. Half of that money is for UNHCR’s work to support people displaced from their homes. With only $47 million available, the humanitarian effort is hampered by the funding shortfall. A spike in displacements will likely increase the financial needs of organizations, adding urgency to UNHCR’s call.

“More than 80 percent of the displaced persons are living with host communities and not in camps,” Yoko Fujimura, an expert with the International Organization on Migration, said in a statement. “Host families are sharing the little that they have with displaced people and therefore should also be supported to avoid tensions over limited resources.”

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.