NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 7, 2014—Violence in the Central African Republic has reached extreme and unprecedented levels, as civilians are abused by the main opposing armed groups, the ex-Seleka and the anti-Balaka, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.
Although the conflict is complex and all communities are affected by the violence, the minority Muslim community is increasingly targeted. In many towns, Muslim groups are isolated and threatened by anti-Balaka forces while tens of thousands of Muslims have already left the country into exile to Chad or Cameroon.
"Civilians remain in constant fear for their lives, and have been largely left to fend for themselves," said Martine Flokstra, MSF emergency coordinator. "In the northwest and in Bangui, we are currently witnessing direct attacks against the Muslim minority. We are concerned about the fate of these communities trapped in their villages, surrounded by anti-Balaka groups, and also about the fact that many Muslim families are being forced into exile to survive."
Fighting in the northwestern towns of Bouca, Bossangoa, Carnot, Berberati, and Baoro has forced the Muslim population to leave. MSF teams have treated wounded patients in at least eight towns in the northwest. In Bozoum, a Muslim community of 2,500 people left the village on February 5.
In Bouar, a Muslim community of more than 8,000 people remains effectively imprisoned, unable to flee the violence. Armed groups are preventing their departure, and access to health care is almost impossible.
Thirty thousand Muslim refugees have already crossed the border to Chad, while 10,000 have reached Cameroon. In Bangui, Muslim families are gathering in a separate camp at the airport, in the Great Mosque, or in isolated displacement sites like the one at PK12, waiting for a possible departure or hoping for some protection.
The majority Christian population also remains affected and thousands are still living in fear. The conflict has caused massive displacement and hundreds of thousands of people are currently seeking refuge at religious centers in towns or at the airport in Bangui, where living conditions are appalling.
In Bangui, fighting and looting continues unabated. In January alone, MSF treated more than 1,650 wounded patients from both Muslim and Christian communities as a direct result of the violence in Bangui. At the Castor Health Center in Bangui, MSF admitted 91 patients with machete or bullet wounds in the last week. At the Bangui airport camp, where approximately 100,000 people are taking refuge, teams provided medical care to 265 wounded patients in January, including 100 in the final week.
"The effect of the violence on the entire civilian population has reached shocking levels," Flokstra said. "The indiscriminate and seemingly unstoppable violence has continued to reach new heights over the last months. Past actions and current efforts are insufficient in the face of the ongoing crisis."
MSF has been working in Central African Republic since 1997, and now runs seven regular projects in Batangafo, Boguila, Carnot, Kabo, Ndéle, Paoua, and Zémio; and seven emergency projects in Bangui, Bouar, Bozoum, Bossangoa, Bouca, Bria, and Berberati. MSF has more than 240 international staff and 2,000 local staff working in the country.