The civil conflict that has engulfed the Central African Republic for more than two years has displaced nearly a quarter of the 4.6 million population, both internally and in neighboring countries. In the past year, certain parts of CAR have stabilized, including in the capital, Bangui, and international donors have begun to turn their attention toward early recovery programs and planning for national elections. But the crisis is not over.
Areas of conflict and volatility have simply shifted as rebel groups and militias relocate throughout the country. A number of towns and villages that were at the center of the conflict a year ago are now calm, whereas some that were once calm are now the scenes of massive population movements. Strong humanitarian support from donors is essential to mitigate the impact of continuing violence, and aid agencies must take steps to ensure that the aid systems in place are as effective as possible.
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More than two years since a rebel movement launched a violent campaign against the Central African Republic government, the country continues to experience a humanitarian crisis. In March 2013, the Séléka group (an amalgamation of rebel groups from the north) overthrew the central government in Bangui. The Séléka were then pushed out of power by Christian militia groups, known as anti-Balaka. Since then, sectarian violence between the anti-Balaka and former members of Séléka, who are mainly Muslim, has taken place throughout the country. Though not a conflict about religion, the fighting entrenched divisions between Christians and Muslims communities, leading to violent attacks and counterattacks amongst civilian neighbors. Further, the conflict exacerbated existing tensions between Muslim herders (who are perceived to be allied with ex-Séléka groups) and agriculturalist communities (which are sometimes linked with anti-Balaka groups) resulting in ongoing clashes. These complex conflict dynamics have contributed to continuing population movement, with 50,000 people having been newly displaced since January 2015.
With the support of the international community, a transitional government was established in January 2014, and peacekeeping forces helped to stabilize certain parts of the country. But the crisis in CAR in far from over. There are currently approximately 400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in CAR. Several tens of thousands are concentrated around town and city centers like Bambari, Batangafo, and the capital Bangui. Many others fled into the bush, away from rural villages that were hit by conflict, and are inaccessible by aid workers. Additionally, the United Nations (UN) estimates that 2.7 million people throughout the country, over half the population of CAR, are in need of humanitarian assistance. As well, nearly a half million Central Africans fled to neighboring countries, including Cameroon, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Donors, particularly the United States and the European Union, must ensure high levels of financial support to respond to the continuing humanitarian emergency and to shrink the gap between needs and available resources.
The U.S. should establish a permanent Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance staff presence at its Embassy in Bangui as soon as security conditions allow.
Donors must provide financing for the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration to expand the establishment of designated internal displacement camp managers throughout the country in order to improve coordination and delivery of aid in the camps.
The Protection Cluster, supported by donors, should deploy the use Joint IDP Profiling Service tools at displacement sites throughout the country to gather more accurate and detailed information about internally displaced people (IDPs).
The United Nations Emergency Response Coordinator should consider appointing a Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for CAR to improve communication between and amongst humanitarian agencies working with IDPs in CAR and refugees in neighboring countries, as well as to advocate for the continuing humanitarian needs throughout the region.
Mark Yarnell traveled to the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo in May 2015 to assess the humanitarian situation for CAR’s displaced.