In the Central African Republic (CAR), 20% of the population has been uprooted after violence escalated following a rebel takeover that ousted the president in March 2013. In recent months, the fighting has taken on religious dimensions, as armed gangs on each side seem aimed at purposefully dividing Christians and Muslims communities who have lived together in peace. Thousands have descended on Catholic churches and schools, pleading for protection and help.
In the Central African Republic, chaos and fear have forced thousands of people from their homes since a rebel takeover in March ousted the president. The situation remains fragile, with outbreaks of fighting among three key groups: the African Union/French troops; the rebel alliance Seleka, which accused the former president of breaching a peace agreement; and the anti-Balaka (anti-machete) forces.
Fighting has taken on religious dimensions, which the United Nations has described as ethnic-religious cleansing.
An estimated 20% of the country’s population is displaced—more than 698,500 people in Bangui and Bossangoa. At least 2,000 people have been killed. African Union peacekeepers have been deployed to disarm rebel groups on both sides. Michel Djotodia, the interim president, resigned in January at a regional peace summit.
Catherine Samba-Panza, the mayor of Bangui, replaced him. However, although well liked, President Samba-Panza has yet to curb the violence and reprisals. Many embassies, including that of the United States, remain closed.
The widespread violence has affected both Christian and Muslim communities. However, the disarmament and fleeing of Seleka groups has left Muslim communities particularly at risk for anti-balaka attacks. Muslim neighborhoods have been systematically under siege, with people being attacked and murdered, their homes and mosques looted and destroyed.
One of the immediate repercussions can be found at the local markets: because many of the traders and cattle herders are Muslim, local markets are now empty of daily staples such as sugar, flour and meat.
Our staff and Catholic partners face tremendous logistical challenges and insecurity in this environment, and are working bravely to access affected areas and channel relief.
CRS and our Caritas partners are focusing emergency efforts in the vulnerable areas of Ouham (Bossangoa) and Lobaye (Mbaiki). As access allows, relief efforts will include shelter, food, living supplies, medical care and conflict resolution.
Impact to Date
In close partnership with Caritas, we have distributed 83,750 daily rations of food in 29 displaced camps hosting 250,000 uprooted people. We have also provided emergency food supplies to 1,500 families and are planning to make similar distributions to another 8,000 families, as well as agriculture recovery tools to 2,000 families in the coming weeks.
We continue to support our Caritas partners—responsible for managing two camps in Bossangoa—with logistics, distributions, staff trainings, conflict resolution activities, registration of displaced populations and improvements to infrastructure.
Priorities Moving Forward
Emergency living and shelter supplies: Given that people have absolutely nothing, we hope to provide sleeping mats, tarps, and essential living supplies, including mosquito nets, blankets, cooking utensils and hygiene kits.
Food: Distributions of food helps feed hungry families in Bangui and elsewhere.
Conflict resolution and Trauma Healing: Dialogue and peace building workshops led by Christian and Muslim religious leaders, and trained community leaders (including youth group leaders), will provide a safe space for communities to address tensions, promote forgiveness and restore community cohesion. Care for the victims of the violence is essential to ensure their ability to return to normal and productive lives.
Strengthened operational capacity of Caritas: Essential organizational support will help boost Caritas staffing, as well as provide much-needed office supplies, fuel, vehicles and generators.