Christian militia forces are blocking main roads used by Muslim civilians trying to flee Central African Republic (CAR) to Cameroon and attacking the refugees, the United Nations said, citing accounts from “traumatised” victims.
Some refugees have suffered serious machete and gunshot wounds and many are malnourished after walking for months, having to detour and enter Cameroon via remote entry points, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.
“New arrivals have told our colleagues the militias have blocked main roads to Cameroon, forcing people to wade through the bush for two to three months before reaching the border. The refugees also said that anti-balaka attacked them during the flight,” UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said.
The agency showed a video of refugees crossing over a river into Gbiti, near Kentzou in Cameroon, a week ago, some with machete gashes on their faces, others with swollen feet.
“They had been walking for up to three months, many from Bangui, and they have been hiding out in the evenings, they have been eating mostly leaves and very poor water. It is a shocking situation,” UNHCR medical officer Paul Spiegel, who filmed the video, told reporters.
Despite the obstacles, an average of 10 000 people – mainly women, children and the elderly – are now crossing each week from CAR into eastern Cameroon, the UNHCR said. Since the start of the year nearly 70 000 refugees have fled to Cameroon.
Some 1,6 million people need food aid in the country, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said, but it was only able to deliver aid to 170 000 in March due to the lack of security.
“Descent into Hell”
Violence between Christians and Muslims in CAR has threatened to spiral into genocide.
The mainly Muslim Seleka seized power a year ago, perpetrating abuses on the majority Christian population that triggered waves of revenge attacks, leading to thousands of deaths and displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Tit-for-tat killings have continued despite the presence of 2 000 French and 6 000 African Union peacekeepers. France’s Armed Forces spokesman told reporters the situation in the west of the country, where French troops are protecting the roads on the way to Cameroon, was “stable but fragile”.
“We need to help the population of Central Africa because they are in this descent into chaos and descent into hell,” said Liz Ahua, deputy director of UNHCR’s Africa bureau and its refugee co-ordinator for the crisis who was also on the trip to Cameroon, Chad and CAR.
On Thursday, the UN Security Council authorised the creation of a nearly 12 000-strong UN peacekeeping force in CAR in a bid to end violence.
The force, to be known as MINUSCA, will have up to 10 000 troops, 1 800 police and 20 corrections officers. It will assume authority on September 15.
“We would like the mission, MINUSCA, to be deployed as quickly as possible. But there is work that is taking place by all of these forces. Our hope is they will be able to hold the tide,” Ahua said.