UNHCR Briefing Notes – Geneva, 06.12.2013

 

 

 

This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today’s Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva.

 1.    Renewed violence in CAR causes more people to flee into DRCongo

 UNHCR is alarmed by the deteriorating security conditions in the Central African Republic and the safety of civilians caught in fighting between ex-Seleka rebels and self-defence forces in the capital Bangui and in the town of Bossangoa, further northwest. According to UN and media reports, at least 140 civilians were killed during fresh attacks yesterday in Bangui.  This is the first major fighting in the capital since March, when Seleka forces captured the city and ousted the government of President Francois Bozize. Our staff in Bangui say the situation is very tense this morning. Gunfire continues to be heard in the 8th arrondissement preventing residents from leaving their homes. We are hearing worrying reports of sectarian and revenge attacks between neighbours throughout Bangui. A local UNHCR worker was attacked in his home last night and the assailants took away and killed his 24-year-old nephew.

 A growing number of people are fleeing across the Oubangui River and seeking shelter in the town of Zongo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Yesterday, close to 700 people had crossed and more were arriving this morning.  Our colleagues in Zongo are verifying the number of arrivals along the river. The newly arrived are staying in a school at Gbala, a village located 12 km from Zongo. The school, a former refugee transit centre built by UNHCR, has facilities for receiving refugees.

 Meanwhile, heavy shelling yesterday afternoon in the town of Bossangoa caused panic among the residents. Although the shelling has stopped, UNHCR staff in the town say the situation remains tense in the area. An unknown number of people have been displaced. There are some 40,000 forcibly displaced people in Bossangoa, mostly sheltered in the compound of the Roman Catholic church there.  They need support, but the dangerous security conditions are hampering aid delivery.  One of our convoys, carrying 60 tons of relief supplies, reached Bossangoa yesterday and will be distributed soon. The aid includes tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, jerry cans, buckets and soap for some 3,000 displaced families in Bossangoa.

 Since December 2012, conflict in the CAR has displaced nearly 400,000 people within the country and forced another 69,800 into exile in neighbouring countries, mostly to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

 2.    UNHCR launches emergency operation to improve conditions for refugees and asylum seekers in Bulgaria

 UNHCR is providing emergency assistance in Bulgaria to improve living conditions and the protection situation for refugees and asylum seekers there. Bulgaria is currently hosting some 8,800 asylum seekers and refugees, around two-thirds of them Syrians. Poor conditions at reception facilities are being worsened by the onset of winter. Normally Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest country, receives only around 1,000 asylum seekers and refugees a year.

 At Harmanli, a former military base around 50 kilometres from the border with Turkey, UNHCR began this week distributing hot meals to the 1,400 residents. They have been without proper cooking facilities and cannot leave the facility to buy food. Asylum seekers in other centres have not been receiving sufficient food. UNHCR is working with the authorities to find a solution to ensure adequate and sustainable food distribution at all centres. UNHCR is also planning to establish child-friendly spaces in each centre. In addition, we are working with partners to increase a presence in all centres for social and legal counseling and information on asylum procedures and rights. The setting-up of a health center in Harmanli by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is welcome, and we encourage other humanitarian organizations to follow this example.

 This week the Bulgarian authorities relocated most people who were living in summer tents to unfinished buildings, where water and sanitation systems need to be improved urgently. A group of especially vulnerable people has been transferred to more adequate facilities. The State Agency for Refugees (SAR) will recruit additional staff and will mobilize registration teams to Harmanli. To improve cooperation and coordination, weekly meetings with all partners have been established, co-chaired by SAR and UNHCR.

 We are alarmed by a recent increase in xenophobic violence such as a reported attack on three asylum seekers, including two Syrian men, in Sofia this past week. We urge the authorities to take steps to stem the rising tide of xenophobia in Bulgaria. We are concerned by reports the authorities are planning to increase the use of closed facilities for asylum seekers, particularly single men. And we urge the authorities to find alternatives to detention. Seeking asylum is not a crime, and the use of detention should be a last resort. The deployment of some 1,400 police officers along the Turkish border and the construction of a 30-kilometre fence there have already reduced the numbers of people able to enter Bulgaria. There have been concerning reports of Syrians being pushed back at the border in recent weeks – contrary to the principles of international law. It is important that people fleeing for their lives are allowed access to a safe haven and are able to seek international protection.

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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