Thousands of people are fleeing for safety to Cameroon to escape violence in the Central African Republic.
Over 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 the 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.
Mostly women and children
The Central Africans UNHCR have registered as refugees are mainly women and children, including 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, or a stadium or on the streets. UNHCR is 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 care for their citizens.
Before the current crisis, Cameroon already hosted 92,000 CAR refugees who started to arrive in 2004, escaping from rebel groups and bandits in the north of CAR.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 from areas still under the control of Seleka elements who, they say, are abusing civilians.
With the latest arrivals, more than 60,000 CAR refugees have sought asylum in the DRC due to atrocities committed by the Seleka earlier in the conflict, recurrent fighting, and 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. The overcrowded and makeshift sites where the refugees are living 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.