The Central African Republic is experiencing a major humanitarian crisis. Widespread internal conflict has displaced more than 600,000 people within CAR and forced another 300,000 to live as refugees in neighboring countries.
In the capital, Bangui, tens of thousands of people are living in makeshift camps that are prone to flooding. In rural areas, those who have decided to return home are coming back to destroyed homes and market places. CAR’s minority Muslim communities are under siege and many have decided to flee the country.
The international community was unable to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in CAR. But action can be taken now by the United Nations and major donor governments to stop the crisis from getting worse and assist those who can be reached.
The current crisis in CAR began when a coalition of Muslim-majority rebel groups from the north of the country, known as Séléka, marched south. Looting villages along the way, the rebels overthrew then-President François Bozizé in March 2013. The Séléka were united in their opposition to the corrupt and centralized regime of President Bozizé, as well as a perceived economic marginalization of the north. Dissatisfaction with the president’s slow implementation of a previously agreed peace accord was also a factor.
After taking over the capital, Bangui, the rebels imposed their reign of terror on the rest of the country – attacking villages, killing civilians, and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee from their homes. Christian militias, known as anti-balaka (“anti-machete”), fought back, but also attacked civilians from CAR’s minority Muslim community – destroying houses, burning down mosques, and mutilating victims.
In January 2014, the rebel leader who the Séléka installed as president, Michel Djotodia, stepped down due to international pressure, as African Union and French peacekeepers attempted to disarm members of armed groups and mitigate the violence. Since the appointment of an interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, the political situation has stabilized somewhat. However, state authority still barely extends beyond the capital. Anti-balaka militiamen, as well as rebels from the now-disbanded Séléka movement, have continued to carry out attacks.
There are currently tens of thousands of people living in makeshift camps for internally displaced people (IDPs), many near the airport in Bangui. In early March, aid workers were hopeful that IDPs would begin returning home during a period of relative calm. In recent weeks, however, insecurity in the capital has spiked, preventing people from going home and forcing even more people to seek refuge at makeshift IDP sites. Unfortunately, seasonal rains have begun and many of the camps have started to flood.
There are also an untold number of IDPs who fled into the bush when their villages were attacked. Many remain hidden, but others have begun to return home – only to find their homes destroyed and medical clinics ransacked. They are in urgent need of basic support as they begin to rebuild their lives.
Donor governments must honor their funding pledges in Central African Republic and provide financing for flexible programing that enables humanitarian agencies to respond to the rapidly changing levels of access to populations in need.
The United States must re-open its embassy in Bangui to enable staff from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance to engage more directly and frequently with implementing partners and beneficiaries.
The United Nations must deploy additional program staff who can work in-country beyond short-term surge deployments.
The planned European Union Force in CAR (EUFOR) must urgently deploy police advisors who can both embed with the African Union peacekeeping mission (MISCA) and train CAR’s local police.
The U.S. and European governments must increase their funding and logistical support for MISCA, including providing vehicles and airlift capacity.
Though the military component of the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR (MINUSCA) will not be established until September 2014, the UN should fast-track the deployment of MINUSCA’s civilian staff, including protection of civilians advisors, human rights officers, and the establishment of a community liaison unit.
Mark Yarnell traveled to the Central African Republic in March 2014 to assess the situation of displaced people in the country.