In Bossangoa, refugees have set up camp near the seminary. Photo taken by our Observer, Bishop Nestor Nongo Aziagbia.
Thousands of refugees are arriving daily in Bossangoa, Central African Republic, fleeing attacks from former Séléka rebels and armed militias. Nearly 40,000 of these displaced persons have sought refuge in the grounds of the town’s Catholic mission, where they live in deplorable sanitary conditions.
“The conflict here has reached an unprecedented level of violence. Increased humanitarian assistance should be urgently deployed,” warned the medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in a press release on October 16. Since the overthrow of government last march, security and humanitarian conditions have continually deteriorated in Central African Republic. This has particularly been the case in the region of Bossangoa, in the country's northwest -- the former heartland of the ex-president Francois Bozizé.
In this region, members of the Seleka -- which has officially been disbanded -- have been accused of numerous human rights abuses, including summary executions of Christians. Such violence has prompted the emergence of local civilian self-defense militias -- the “Anti-Balaka” -- who clash with the former Séléka rebels and have committed reprisal attacks on Muslims.
“In this climate of fear and violence, people are fleeing for their lives into the bush or gathering in large groups seeking safety,” the MSF reports. Tens of thousands of Christians have sought refuge in the Catholic mission in Bossangoa, while about 2,000 Muslims took shelter in the Liberty School in the centre of the city. All are under the protection of the FOMAC, the Multinational Force of Central Africa.
"Some have even taken refuge in the pig pen"
Nestor Nongo Aziagba, the bishop of Bossangoa, has witnessed first-hand the influx of refugees to the church grounds.
Refugees started arriving at the Catholic mission on September 8. A week later there were already 15,000 here. Since the escalation of violence between the Séléka and ‘anti-Balaka’ militia, refugees have been arriving every day. According to Caritas [a Catholic relief organisation], there are around 39,000 displaced persons contained in a four hectare area, with the majority of them being women and children.The sanitary conditions are extremely poor, and a lot of the refugees are living with cattle they brought here. Until mid-September, most refugees had no shelter and were left completely exposed to the elements. Now, the Red Cross and UNICEF have brought tarps with which refugees have built tents, and toilet facilities have been installed. The premises of the Catholic mission here have been left at their disposal. Some have even taken refuge in the pig pen! These are desperate people seeking refuge from the current instability of the region.“Famine is a serious threat at the moment”The security situation is dire. Not a day goes by without someone being killed. Most men refuse to leave the area for fear of being kidnapped by the Séléka and being accused of being ‘anti-Balaka’ members. So mostly it's the women who leave the zone in hope of finding food and supplies, but they end up having to pay bribes on their way. And as agriculture and harvesting have been interrupted by the conflict, famine is a serious threat at the moment. We have made requests to the FAO [the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations] for basic supplies.On a visit here three days ago, Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye pledged to clear out Séléka rebels and strengthen FOMAC forces. I hope with all my heart that he will keep his promise. Because if he doesn't, the situation will become catastrophic.
Post written with François-Damien Bourgery (@FDBourgery).