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Central African Republic

Thousands displaced in the Central African Republic struggle to survive

© UNICEF/HQ07-0133/Pirozzi
Outside Paoua, a village in the northern Central African Republic, near the Chad border, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow takes notes as displaced people recount stories of the atrocities they have witnessed.

By Susan Knorrenborg

NEW YORK, USA, 20 February 2007 – Over the last year, brutal attacks on villages in the northwestern Central African Republic (CAR) have displaced thousands of people.

Three-quarters of villages in northern parts of the country have been abandoned as people flee both internal conflict and the effects of fighting in the Darfur region, which has spilled across the border from neighbouring Sudan. Some villagers have fled to nearby Chad or Cameroon; others are living in the bush after their homes have been looted and burned.

In January alone, at least 100 villages were attacked, and people who escaped tell of torture, executions and rapes. Both government forces and rebel groups have reportedly contributed to the violence.

“We just passed village after village after village. We lost count,” said UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow, who visited the area last week to call international attention to the effects of the conflict there. “The population is totally terrified,” she added.

© UNICEF/HQ07-0130/Pirozzi
Burned and looted homes stand empty in the abandoned village of Gbarain, near the Central African Republic’s border with Chad.

State of destitution

With no place to go, some displaced villagers have been hiding in the bush for more than a year. They try to tend their fields and occasionally go back to their villages – but the sound of a vehicle is enough to make them flee.

Displaced families have no shelter, no access to safe water and no schools for their children to attend, and many are in a state of utter destitution.

“It is a situation that is reaching an explosion point,” said UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa Esther Guluma, who accompanied Ms. Farrow on her visit to the northwest. “We have so many people in this area. They live out in the open, they don’t have access to medical care and they have no food if the children are sick.”

‘Sustained humanitarian emergency’

According to Médecins Sans Frontières, the health risks facing children in the area are worsened by the fact that almost 70 per cent of those under the age of five suffer from malaria. The disease poses a serious threat to child survival, especially when coupled with undernutrition.

Older children face the risk of being recruited by the rebel groups. One rebel leader has reportedly admitted that his group uses child soldiers as young as 14 years of age.

UNICEF is present in the country, reaching out to the most vulnerable children in order to protect them from deadly diseases such as malaria, measles and polio. In the northern town of Birao, for example, Ms. Farrow spoke at the opening ceremony of a ‘child health and survival days’ campaign providing immunization and other services.

But according to Ms. Guluma, much more help is needed, particularly in the areas affected by violence. “If I ever saw a sustained humanitarian emergency, this is it,” she said.

Tim Ledwith contributed to this story.




20 February 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow’s visit to northwestern Central African Republic, where displaced families face dire conditions.
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