Switzerland: Thousands flee to Chad, Cameroon to escape CAR violence - UNHCR

Geneva, Switzerland (PANA) - Thousands of people from Central African Republic (CAR) have crossed the border into Chad and Cameroon to escape renewed tension and fighting since mid-June in their fragile country, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said on Friday. It says it is feared that more will come.

At a press briefing in Geneva, UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said their staff in southern Chad had helped the Government’s national refugee commission register more than 5,643 CAR refugees in the villages of Sourouh and Mini, located near Mbitoye, some three and seven kilometres from the border.

Screening and registration of new arrivals is continuing, Fleming said, adding that a further 555 refugees had crossed to Yamba village in eastern Cameroon.

A UNHCR statement said the exodus began on 12 June when clashes erupted between livestock herders and local arable farmers in and around the north-west town of Ngaoundaye, Ouham Pende region.

"Such clashes have become a seasonal occurrence as herders move their animals across the land. But this year, disturbingly, rival ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka militias have become involved," UNHCR said.

"The more intense and escalated fighting this year has also affected a further 25,000 to 30,000 people within CAR, including many internally displaced in addition to those fleeing to Chad and Cameroon. New arrivals said many people had fled to the bush and might try to cross borders if the situation does not improve. UNHCR shares growing international concern about the displacement and the rising tension and clashes, including in Bangui."

The UNHCR spokesperson noted that refugees arriving in the two neighbouring countries, which already hosted tens of thousands of refugees from CAR, said they had seen killings, kidnappings, looting and the torching of their homes.

Fleming said most fled direct attacks on their villages while some said they had run away fearing the fighting would come to their homes. People reported the presence of heavily armed fighters.

Although most are women, children and the elderly, more men are fleeing and leaving behind their livelihoods. In Chad, where people have been crossing despite the border being officially closed, about two thirds of arrivals are aged under 18 years and 450 of them were unaccompanied or separated from their families.

UNHCR said the majority of household heads are women and more than 20 per cent of those arriving have been identified by the Commission's protection staff as vulnerable with specific needs. They are arriving in a poor state; exhausted, weak and hungry with many traumatized. Some have health problems, including malaria, respiratory infections and malnutrition at the height of the rainy season. These people, crammed into structures provided by the village host community, need urgent aid, including shelter, food and medical care.

Fleming said UNHCR and the government were working with inter-agency partners to provide emergency assistance to the new arrivals while preparing to relocate the new arrivals to host villages some 45 kilometres from the border, rather than create new camps.

The latest violence comes barely six months after the election of President Faustin Archange Touadera ushered in hopes of lasting peace after three years of escalated conflict that left thousands dead and almost 1 million displaced.

Before the new influx, UNHCR and its partners were providing protection and assistance to over 67,000 CAR refugees in southern Chad and some 260,000 in Cameroon.

There are also 415,000 internally displaced people within CAR. UNHCR says it has appealed for US$225.5 million for its CAR situation operations, but has only received US$24.7 million to date, or about 11 per cent.
-0- PANA MA 8July2016

08 july 2016 12:02:42

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