By Laura Jepson, Project Reporting & Communications Officer, CAR
September 19, 2013 – Conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) has resulted in massive civilian displacement. According to the United Nations, 60,000 people have fled to neighboring countries since the start of the conflict in December 2012, while 310,000 remain displaced within CAR, many of whom are now living in the bush for safety.
In the town of Bria, the capital of Haute-Kotto prefecture in northeastern CAR, many people left prior to armed groups attacking and capturing the town on December 18, 2012, only then to be unable to return due to road blocks. The takeover of the capital in March 2013 plunged the area into a renewed era of violence and chaos, with widespread looting, rape and arbitrary killings forcing more people to abandon their homes. Even now, six months after the takeover, people are still fleeing attacks on their villages by armed groups.
International Medical Corps estimates that there are 8,000 people who have fled to the town of Bria, with an additional 3,500 people hiding in the bush and surrounding villages. For those hiding in the bush, life is very difficult. They suffer from poor living conditions, with makeshift shelters made from whatever material they can find, and only the few belongings they were able to save, if any. They have to forage for food to survive; are exposed to malaria; have no access to safe drinking water; and are at risk of further attacks from armed groups and bandits.
Below, Paul, Natacha and Jean-Christoph share their experiences with International Medical Corps about when their villages were attacked.
Paul (age 53):“It was December; the rebels came at night. They started looting house-by-house. We used to have a lot of cattle but the rebels took all of them. Young men were taken to be used as forced labor for the rebels. If the rebels saw a woman they wanted, they just took her. Many people are still living in the bush; they will return to their village when they think it is safe. Some families are starting to farm again but they can’t produce enough. They need more seeds but they have no money to buy them. Everything was destroyed.”
Natacha (age 32):“We have suffered a lot since the attack on our village in May. When they came, everyone tried to escape into the bush. Those who couldn’t escape in time were attacked. Ten people were killed, many were injured, and thirty people were abducted, including women and girls as young as seven years old. Women that had younger children, the rebel just threw the child aside and the mother was taken. The villagers that were able to escape returned to collect these children and now look after them.
Jean-Christoph (age 43):“When they came, they took everything; then they burnt down our houses. Seven people were killed and twenty-two men were abducted; everyone else fled into the bush. We came here on foot, it took us a week. We have been suffering from attacks on our village since 2010; my son was taken and I haven’t seen him since. Our village is completely empty now; I will never return there.”
International Medical Corps is responding to the medical needs of displaced people and the host communities through the provision of primary health care and nutrition services through four health posts and two mobile clinics that are visiting 15 remote communities surrounding Bria. We hope to expand the reach of our teams of community health workers whose outreach activities will help even more people, particularly with malaria testing and treatment, and malnutrition screening for children.
However, the situation is deteriorating and requires additional humanitarian interventions. International Medical Corps has been meeting with the displaced families, village chiefs and community elders to identify the immediate needs - shelter, water, and food are a major concern. International Medical Corps will continue advocating with the various humanitarian actors in CAR to respond to the dire needs of these people.
International Medical Corps has been working in the Vakaga and Haute-Kotto Prefectures in North-East CAR since May 2007 providing basic primary and secondary health care, nutrition care and protection for internally displaced people, refugees and host populations within these prefectures. These areas are characterized by insecurity and periods of conflict between armed groups, which have had a devastating impact on health, education, and water and sanitation services, leaving thousands without access to basic services.