The United Nations refugee agency today condemned attacks on civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR), where clashes between rival groups have forced thousands of people to flee their homes and disrupted vital humanitarian aid operations.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) "strongly condemns attacks against civilians which severely hamper the provision of urgently needed humanitarian assistance to populations in need," said the agency's representative for the country, Kouassi Lazare Etien in a news release.
Fighting in the past month between ex-Séléka militiamen and anti-Balaka fighters has affected western, eastern and central parts of the country and the capital, Bangui, according to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSCA).
The Mission said at least 11 people were killed and 22 wounded in clashes that followed the murder of an army officer on October 4, with 14 people reported to be still missing.
MINUSCA also said 150 people had fled their homes and 35 families had taken refuge in in the capital, Bangui. In a further incident of violence in the northwest on Tuesday, MINUSCA reported that 30 persons sought refuge in Cambatt camp at the south entrance of Koui town, while another 130 sought refuge in Gabbatt camp to the north.
"Armed group activities engender insecurity and provoke population movements. Displaced people are perpetually in urgent need of food, basic household items, medicine and access to education," Mr. Etien said.
The UN refugee agency said it was particularly alarmed by growing insecurity in the eastern prefecture of Haut-Mboumou, home to 2,748 Congolese refugees in Zemio, another 1,057 Congolese who have settled in Obo as well as 4,222 South Sudanese refugees in Bambouti.
On September 19, attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army in Tabane 1 village, 20 kilometres from Zemio, led to the displacement of about 700 people and prompted UNHCR to decide to speed up the relocation of the South Sudanese refugees from Bambouti to Obo.
There, they are able to receive protection and assistance in health, education, shelter, water, sanitation, hygiene, and food and non-food aid.
Several humanitarian properties and convoys in the centre and north of the country were targeted by armed robbers. This, as well as clashes on September 16 between ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka elements in Ndomete, Nana-Grebizi prefecture, caused more than 3,200 people to flee into the bush and to nearby villages.
Despite reinforcement by the UN peacekeeping mission, armed groups have continued to set up illegal checkpoints and demand money from traders in the town of Kaga-Bandoro in Nana-Grebizi prefecture, forcing up prices of local commodities and disrupting the movement of humanitarian convoys.
On September 21, an attack by the armed group 3R (Retour, Reclamation et Réhabilitation) on Degaulle town in Ouham-Pende prefecture in the northwest led to the flight of an estimated 3,400 families towards Bocaranga and surrounding villages.
The growing insecurity is causing many organizations to leave or reduce their presence. Two UNHCR partners have cut their staff or suspended monitoring activities in the west of the country.
In Bocaranga, four humanitarian organizations have closed their bases or suspended their activities and two others have evacuated their staff, to Paoua in Ouham-Pende prefecture, or to Bangui. One of UNHCR's partners has reduced its staff on the ground for security reasons.Insecurity constrains UNHCR's response
Because of the insecurity, UNHCR's response has been confined to protection monitoring, participating in food distribution to internally displaced people, and coordinating protection and shelter for the newly displaced populations.
A UNHCR-operated call centre in Ndomete, Nana-Grebizi prefecture, provides care to individuals who have suffered from gender-based violence, and helps in the tracing of unaccompanied children.
Displaced people are in urgent need of food, basic household items, medicine and access to schools.
Armed groups have occupied schools in some parts of the country, preventing classes from taking place. Food prices are rising and basic commodities are quickly disappearing from the market.
The 2016-2017 academic year has been interrupted by the presence of armed groups in and near dozens of schools and colleges in Ouham, Ouaka and Nana-Mambere prefectures, preventing more than 10,000 children from continuing their education.