All the houses in the town of Bossangoa are empty now. In the past two months, the entire population moved into two camps as violence escalated in the area along starkly-defined sectarian divides.
In one camp, some 30,000 Christians have sought refuge from attacks by the Seleka militia, which overthrew the government of Central African Republic (CAR) months ago. In another camp, 8,000 Muslims have sought shelter and safety in an old schoolhouse from attacks by the so-called anti-balaka militias that emerged in opposition to the Seleka.
And now, many are trying to get ever further away from the violence. On the morning of January 30, most of those same 8,000 Muslims were trying to load their families and possessions on a fleet of hired trucks. Having been displaced once already, these people had heard reports of numerous incidents of violence over the past few days during which several hundred Muslims were killed in villages outside of Bangui.
Forced to Choose Who Stays and Who Goes
It soon became apparent, however, that the 20 trucks on hand would be able to transport only a fraction of the people who had hoped to leave the city. Women and children were given priority on some trucks, and men elected to stay behind. “I am sending my family on the truck but I am going to stay because there is no space for me,” one man told the MSF team. “I will try to follow later.”
Fear turned to despair when it became apparent that not all the displaced people would be evacuated on the convoy, which was going to travel with an escort from the Chadian army.
Many people have been traumatized not just by the violence, but by the sudden upsurge of hatred along religious lines, in the country they call home. “I was born here, I don’t understand the hate towards us,“ another Muslim man told us. “We are the ones who are traders here… I sell sugar and coffee. I want to come home when there is peace in Central Africa. ”
An Awful Time
MSF started emergency activities in Bossangoa in May 2013 after heavy violence forced thousands of people to leave their homes and seek shelter in the camps.The MSF team supports hospital departments and activities in camps located inside the city, giving medical assistance to all people, regardless of religious, ethnic or political affiliation.
Since the beginning of October MSF has carried out over 176 surgeries in the Bossangoa hospital, most of which are violence related. More than 600 children were admitted to the program for severe malnutrition and more than 14,000 consultations were performed, including 6,000 people who were treated for malaria. MSF is providing water and building latrines in both camps.
More in Hiding or Trapped
Throughout the country, violence, revenge killings, arson and looting have displaced more than 900,000 civilians since July 2013, according to the United Nations. While much attention has focused on the plight of people living in urban centers such as Bangui and Bossangoa, there are an enormous number of people who have fled into the bush.
MSF is gravely concerned that people are living in conditions that make them vulnerable to diseases such as malaria, and has deployed mobile outreach clinics to provide basic health care to people who are hiding in the bush with no access to health care, food, clean drinking water, or shelter.