A Return to the Central African Republic

More than two years since a rebel movement launched a violent campaign against the Central African Republic government, the country is continuing to experience a major humanitarian crisis. In March 2013, the Seleka group (an amalgamation of rebel groups from the north) overthrew the central government in Bangui, and since then sectarian violence between Christian militia groups, known as anti-Balaka, and former members of Seleka, who are mainly Muslims, has permeated the country. Further, inter-communal violence has pitted neighbor against neighbor, and the political conflict has also exacerbated simmering tensions between pastoralist and agriculturalist communities, resulting in violent clashes. 

There are now approximately 450,000 internally displaced persons in CAR. Several tens of thousands are concentrated around town and city centers like Bambari, Batangafo, and the capital Bangui, but the majority has fled into the bush and is inaccessible by aid workers. Additionally, the United Nations estimates that 2.7 million people throughout the country, nearly half the population of CAR, are in need of humanitarian assistance. At the same time, nearly a half million Central Africans have fled to neighboring countries as refugees.

Refugees International last traveled to CAR in March 2014. Since then, a new UN peacekeeping mission was launched (MINUSCA), donor governments have re-established a permanent presence in the country (including the re-opening of the United States Embassy), and dozens of additional aid organizations have arrived to provide badly-needed life-saving services. On the political front, the interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, is currently hosting a National Reconciliation Forum in Bangui.   

While certain areas of CAR are stabilizing, like the western part of the country, there are other areas that are continuing to experience acute insecurity – particularly in the provinces of Ouham, Nana-Bribizi, and Ouaka, in the center-north of the country. In the first two months of 2015 alone, around 50,000 people were forced from their homes because of violence. Aid agencies are now scrambling to provide help to the newly displaced, as well as maintain emergency support for millions facing food insecurity.

Unfortunately, so far the UN only has 23% of the funding that is needed for 2015. Further, the violence has constrained the delivery of emergency relief supplies. Moreover, in addition to fighting between ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka groups, there has been a marked increase in violence and banditry directed at aid workers and their assets – particularly on roads between major towns.

I am currently in CAR with my colleague Alyssa Eisenstein. Our goal is to assess the situation for people who have been forced from their homes, to hear their stories, and to develop an understanding of what it would take for them to feel safe enough to return home. There are numerous humanitarian crises ongoing throughout the world, and the global resources are stretched. But while international attention on CAR has waned, the situation for many remains dire.

Photo: People displaced at the airport in Bangui, CAR. March 2014.