NEWS FEATURE: The Central African Republic conflict 12th March, 2015
“There is no greater catastrophe than seeing someone you know being killed in front of you. A human slaughtered like an animal? There is nothing uglier than that.”
The images and trauma are still etched sharply in the mind of Idris Musa as he recalls the terrifying ordeal which forced him to abandon his home, family and everything he has known to seek refuge in a safe haven.
It’s a common theme among the thousands who, like Idris, have fled the Central African Republic and become refugees in neighbouring states as ethnic and religious violence sweeps their nation. Idris and others like Zaitoune, Mariam and countless more all tell similar tales of tragedy and woe.
Mention ‘refugees’ or ‘humanitarian tragedy’ and the first words likely to come to mind are probably Syria, Iraq or Palestine. Yet while the conflicts in those regions, in particular Syria, dominate the international headlines, the tragedy of CAR is unravelling in the heart of Africa and its effects on those caught up in it is just as acutely devastating as those in the Middle East.
THE STRUGGLE FOR SECURITY
The Central African Republic has been beset by internal strife, rebellions, military coups and economic woes for decades. Ever since independence from France in 1960, it has struggled to find security and stability for its population.
Communal and religious conflict has been simmering for the last decade and in 2012 it erupted in an explosion of ethnic cleansing, violence and brutality of unimaginable proportions. Paradoxically, CAR has been home to refugees from neighbouring countries like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo but is now experiencing an exodus of its own population.
The United Nations estimates (March 2015) that:
• about 450,000 people have been internally displaced
• nearly 450,000 have fled CAR to neighbouring countries
• 1 in 5 of CAR’s 4.5 million population is displaced
• 2.5 million in the country are in dire need of humanitarian assistance.
Food and clean water remain in scarce supply in many of the affected areas. Hospitals and clinics have been vandalised and looted and health care provision remains a priority for relief agencies working in the area.
The refugee camps and makeshift shelters in neighbouring countries are overcrowded and under resourced. Living conditions in the camps are dire and food and water scarcity are giving rise to real fears of the spread of disease and epidemic.
Many victims of the atrocities have been Muslims, with documented reports of the slaughter and expulsion of tens of thousands of Muslims from the capital Bangui alone at the hands of the anti-Balaka militia.
Yet despite the scale of the atrocities and warnings by UN officials of “ethnic-religious” cleansing, it has been dubbed the silent or forgotten conflict because of the relative lack of international intervention.
ISLAMIC HELP and CAR REFUGEES
Islamic Help is leading an international coalition of charities to help CAR refugees in Cameroon, a nation which now houses more than 240,000 refugees (source: UNHCR March 2015), as well as in the Central African Republic itself.
Working with the Islamic Development Bank and the Centre Culturel Des Musulmans Pour Le Developpement (CCMUD), we acquired land in Garoua-Boulai in Cameroon and built a refugee camp for 200 families.
The facilities include:
• 200 shelters
• a health centre and medicines
• a temporary school, equipped, for 400 children
• a mosque
• toilets and showers
Refugees started arriving at the Garoua-Boulai camp in October 2014 and in January 2015 an official opening ceremony was held with Islamic Help and its partners plus local government and community representatives.
In addition to the refugee camp in Cameroon, Islamic Help is setting up a new camp in Yelwa in the Central African Republic for internally displaced people (IDP) by the conflict. It too will feature 200 family shelters and facilities for 1,500 individuals.
This camp has only been allowed to go ahead after the approval of the anti-Balaka - the Christian militia group which has been targeting Muslims in CAR - in Nana Mbere region as it will cater for Muslim and non-Muslims IDPs.
Oussama Mezoui, who travelled to Cameroon to prepare the programme for Islamic Help, said: "I've been to the Syria border and to the Philippines after the typhoon but the suffering and pain I witnessed on the border with CAR is perhaps the worst I have seen.
"The situation is nearly hopeless - thousands of traumatised refugees fleeing violence with nothing but the clothes on their backs, the flesh wounds from the machetes of the anti-Balaka still to heal. Very few NGOs are here on the ground.
“The world has abandoned these people. Hundreds continue to arrive each day but the international community is silent. In 2014 the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide was commemorated - we cannot afford to make the same mistakes with CAR.”