UNHCR Briefing -Feb 7 2014

This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today’s Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva. Further information can be found on the UNHCR websites, www.unhcr.org and www.unhcr.fr, which should also be checked for regular media updates on non-briefing days.

 

 1.  CAR violence forces thousands to flee to neighboring Cameroon

 Thousands of people are fleeing for safety to Cameroon to escape violence in the Central African Republic. Just in the past ten days, 8,762 people of various nationalities crossed into the town of Kentzou in eastern Cameroon, including mostly Central Africans (4,764) but also foreign nationals from Chad (3,424), Cameroon (1, 497), Nigeria (43) and Mali (10). This brings the number of CAR refugees in Cameroon to more than 20,000 since fighting started.

 The new arrivals told UNHCR staff they fled because of confrontations between the former Seleka and anti-Balaka militiamen in the capital, Bangui, and other towns in the north- west such as Bour, Baboua, Beloko and Cantonnier.  Some also fled from intense fighting in the areas of, Berberati, Carnot, Baoro and Gambala. Others fled because of fear that the anti-Balaka militiamen were advancing towards their areas.

 The Central Africans we have registered as refugees are mainly women and children and include 43 pregnant women, 50 lactating mothers and 89 handicapped people in need of special attention.  The majority of them are Muslims who say they feared for their safety because of their perceived sympathy for the largely Muslim Seleka group.

 Living conditions are precarious for the new arrivals who are either hosted by impoverished local families, or living in mosques, a stadium or on the streets. UNHCR is working on converting a nearby campsite designated by authorities and plans to transfer refugees there by the end of next week.  UNHCR has approached various embassies to take charge of citizens of other nationalities. Before the current crisis, Cameroon was already hosting 92,000 CAR refugees who started to arrive in 2004 to escape from rebel groups and bandits in the north of their country.

 People fleeing recent communal violence in CAR are also heading to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Since Saturday, DRC has received more than 1,500 refugees and more are arriving daily. They came from areas still under the control of Seleka elements who, they say, are abusing civilians.

 With the latest arrivals, there are now more than 60,000 CAR refugees who have sought asylum in the DRC, due to atrocities committed by the Seleka earlier in the conflict, and most recently due to recurrent fighting, as well as  indiscriminate attacks perpetrated by armed Muslim and Christian mobs.

 Since the beginning of the conflict in December 2012, close to 246,000 CAR civilians have become refugees across the region. More than 838,000 people also remain displaced inside CAR.  With the lack of immediate prospect for their return and the onset of the rainy season, UNHCR fears a worsening humanitarian crisis. Overcrowded and makeshift sites they are living in cannot absorb the water and lack proper sanitation facilities.  As a result, there is a high risk of cholera and other public health issues, particularly in Bangui where 413,094 still live in makeshift sites.

 2.  South Sudan: Distribution of basic relief supplies begins in Malakal

 On Tuesday UNHCR began distributing basic relief supplies to an estimated 10,000 people displaced by the recent conflict in and around Malakal, capital of South Sudan’s Upper Nile State, some 600 km north of Juba. This is the first aid to reach the displaced people outside of the UN base in Malakal. The city was the scene some of the fiercest fighting last month. Insecurity as well as wide-spread looting of humanitarian assets meant that UNHCR and other agencies were unable to deliver aid to those displaced outside of the UN base in Malakal until now.

 According to UN estimates, there are around 38,000 displaced people in Malakal, including some 28,000 sheltered in a UN base. The displaced fled from within the county of Malakal which has rivers and from Jonglei.  There are many women, children and elderly people among the displaced.  To reach the city of Malakal, some said they had used boats to cross the river while some others swam. Women said they walked for four hours with their children before crossing. We are taking advantage of the relative calm following the signing of the cessation of hostilities agreement between the warring forces on 23rd January 2014 to deliver aid to the most vulnerable. Since Tuesday, we have given aid to more than 3,000 displaced and hope to reach the rest of the target group by the end of next week.

 The aid items including plastic sheeting jerry cans, buckets, kitchen sets, mosquito nets, sleeping mats and blankets were airlifted into the Malakal airport from our regional stockpile in Nairobi. We are distributing the items in close collaboration with sister UN agencies and other humanitarian agencies that are part of the collaborative relief effort. In particular, IOM, UNICEF and World Vision International are involved in the distribution. Most of the displaced have been staying in schools and other sites for weeks while others continue arriving from Khorflus in neighboring Jonglei State or from nearby villages, citing fear and insecurity despite the truce.

Some of the displaced have told our emergency staff that the security situation in their villages continues to be tense and that they could not work or survive in that kind of environment.  The city of Malakal itself remains largely deserted and civilians continue to flee to and from it.

With more than 153,000 displaced people, Upper Nile has the second largest concentration of displaced people in South Sudan, after Unity State where more than  188,000 people have been uprooted since fighting broke out in mid-December.  The crisis has also forced into exile over 131,000 South Sudanese to neighboring Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan.

END

Gisèle Nyembwe

Public Information Associate

Collaboratrice adjointe chargée de l’information UNHCR Canada

Tel: (613) 232-0909 ext. 225

Mobile: (613) 986-4300

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