CAR refugee numbers spiral in Cameroon

2014-02-22 07:00
Refugees walk in mud after a storm in the airport camp in Bangui, Central African Republic. (Jerome Delay, AP)

Refugees walk in mud after a storm in the airport camp in Bangui, Central African Republic. (Jerome Delay, AP)

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Geneva - Around 28 000 people have fled from conflict-torn Central African Republic to neighbouring Cameroon since the start of this month, the UN refugee agency said on Friday.

"The new arrivals from CAR are living in appalling conditions. Most of them lack food and shelter," said Dan McNorton, spokesperson for the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR).

"Generous host communities have taken in many people, but they cannot share their homes and resources with everyone," he told reporters.

The influx, mainly of Muslims fleeing communal bloodshed, brings to 35 000 the total number of people who have fled across the border to Cameroon since a coup in March 2013.

Even before the current crisis erupted when the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition seized power last year, Cameroon was hosting 92,000 refugees from unrest-prone Central African Republic.

They first started to arrive in 2006, fleeing growing attacks by rebels, militias and bandits.

McNorton said the growing number of refugees was driving up prices for food and other basic necessities such as soap and fuel.

The violence in Central African Republic spun out of control when rogue Seleka fighters began committing atrocities against the Christian majority.

The campaign of killings, rape and looting sparked revenge attacks by Christian vigilantes known as "anti-balaka" (anti-machete).

Despite the presence of French and African peacekeeping troops, violence continues in the country, and has already forced about a quarter of the population of 4.6 million people from their homes.

Fearful

In addition to Central African citizens, thousands of migrants from other countries have also fled the violence, in particular citizens of majority-Muslim Chad fearful of being targeted by anti-balaka fighters.

About 8 000 refugees from other countries have already arrived in Cameroon, mostly Chadians and citizens of Mali, Mauritania and Niger, said McNorton.

Aid agencies have scrambled to help them get back to their home countries.

In addition to heading west to Cameroon, thousands of refugees have gone north to Chad.

"Seventeen trucks carrying more than 2 000 people arrived overnight," said Christiane Berthiaume, spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration.

"And hundreds of people are in the process of crossing the border," she told reporters.

Read more on:    unhcr  |  central african republic  |  central africa
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