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UN voices concern as first camp opens for displaced Central Africans

UN voices concern as first camp opens for displaced Central Africans

John Holmes
Authorities in the Central African Republic (CAR) have opened the troubled country’s first camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) after a rise in bandit attacks in the north, and United Nations humanitarian officials warn that continuing violence means the number of displaced may only grow in the weeks ahead.

The camp has opened near the town of Kabo, where more than 900 people have arrived from neighbouring rural areas since the start of the month, joining another 3,400 IDPs living there since last October. The numbers have swelled so much that residents no longer have the means to host the displaced.

A sharp rise in attacks by bandits, also known as zaraguinas, in recent months has forced an increasing number of Central Africans to seek safety in town centres, having already fled their homes and villages for what they initially hoped would be a safer existence in temporary camps in the bush.

There are now as many as 197,000 IDPs across the CAR, concentrated mainly in the seven northern-most prefectures, where they comprise almost 14 per cent of the local population. In addition, 98,000 Central Africans live as refugees in neighbouring Chad and Cameroon.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes called on all parties to the ongoing conflict in the north of the CAR to immediately stop targeting civilians.

“At a time when dialogue between all political parties is being prepared and tensions between militant groups and the Government appear to have eased, it is deeply troubling that the people of the Central African Republic continue to flee their homes,” he said.

Last week the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that the violence and instability plaguing the north has led to the decimation of public infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals and the stagnation of economic development.

UN aid agencies, including the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and UNICEF, are helping authorities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to care for the IDPs, providing food, blankets, mosquito nets, mats, jerry cans and soap.

“Lives are being protected and aid is reaching the people who need it most, on time,” said Toby Lanzer, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in the CAR.