Djamilou, from the Central Africa Republic (CAR), has been working as a logistician for Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Niger. He came to Paris between assignments to tell us the story of the violence and plight his family—now scattered across three different countries—faced as they fled from CAR. Djamilou’s testimony illustrates only too well the suffering endured by our Central African staff working in and around the country.
“I grew up in Bocaranga in the north. Until not long ago, there were no problems between Christians and Muslims. Christians invited us to their Christmas and New Year celebrations and they came to celebrate with us during Ramadan. There were no barriers and we lived peacefully together. School was mixed and we had fun and played football. There were couples that were mixed too.
Like lots of my relatives, I became a shopkeeper after my final school exams—my family had several shops in Bocaranga. But in 2008, famine struck our region and Médecins Sans Frontières opened a therapeutic feeding center. And that’s how I came to be hired as an assistant logistician by MSF.
When the Bocaranga program closed in 2011, I was transferred to Paoua where I was appointed hospital logistician/biomedical technician, and then to Bangui where I was an interim logistician. My work consisted in supporting various field programs in Bria, Paoua, and Carnot. Once I’d gained experience, I provided support to international logisticians on first-assignment with MSF. I also handled small immunization emergencies and WatSan [water and sanitation] activities, filled in for logisticians and was program biomedical advisor.
I continued to progress and went to Burkina Faso as an international staff logistician to work on malnutrition prevention and assistance to refugee programs. That’s where I was when the rebel group Seleka seized power in Bangui in March 2013.
When I returned to CAR two weeks later, the atmosphere had changed and things weren’t quite so serene. I couldn’t get to Bocaranga because of the insecurity so I stayed in Bangui providing support to the MSF coordination team who sent me every now and again to Bria in the east of the country to carry out exploratory missions and open programs.
The country was sinking fast and abuse against all communities was rife. The Christian community bore most of the brunt, but we Muslims suffered, too. I myself was held up on my way out of the MSF office and my motorbike, ID papers, phone, and money were stolen. My family in Bocaranga were held at ransom twice. There was growing mistrust and it just wasn’t like before.
On December 5, 2013, anti-Balaka Christian militias attacked Bangui. There was shooting everywhere and the streets were deserted. I was frightened and I didn’t leave my home for several days. I lived in Christian neighborhood Benz-Vi, where everyone knew I was a Muslim. I tried to set my mind at rest. I said to myself, I’m a humanitarian worker, my neighbors will take that into consideration, because it’s obvious I have nothing to do with the crisis that’s been plaguing our country for months.
But the anti-Balaka militias gradually took over more and more of Bangui’s districts. Muslims were hunted down and murdered solely for their religion and when the Muslims in Benz-Vi began to be targeted, I realized I had to get away.
MSF offered me an assignment in Niger. When the airport in Bangui re-opened, my colleagues sent a car for me, and on December 18, I left.
Several weeks later, my little brother who I’d been living with in Bangui was attacked in Benz-Vi. He was lynched and left for dead in the street. The French soldiers who found him saw he was still breathing and took him to Bangui Community Hospital where MSF was working. They managed to revive him and he survived. Some time later, I was able to get him out of CAR and send him to Cameroon.
I thought that our problems were over because, up until then, the violence against Muslims was confined to Bangui. But in January, it spread to the rest of the country and finally Bocaranga, where my family lived. When the Seleka withdrew from the town, Christian militias attacked and the Muslims fled for their lives in a state of total panic. Some of my family managed to get to Chad and the rest to Cameroon. Our shops, homes, and businesses were looted and systematically ransacked. We have nothing left.
There’s not one single Muslim left in Bocaranga.
My family is scattered among three different countries.
My sisters are living in tents in a refugee camp in Chad and my brothers and their families are sitting it out in a town in the north of Cameroon where they are staying with distant relatives. I took my two children and four of my brothers to Niger to keep them safe.
I’ve just finished my assignment in Niger and I’m hesitating between several options for the next one. It’s really difficult to work for MSF and support from afar around thirty people living in three different places. My first priority was to get them to a safe place but it’s much trickier now we’re thinking about the longer-term.
Before they were forced to leave, my family were really dynamic and enterprising and now they find themselves with nothing to do. It’s very, very hard on them.
Returning to CAR is impossible right now. My family are in places where they don’t know anyone, they don’t know how the people there live, so they keep watching. One day they’ll get their lives back, but for now, they have no other choice than to wait it out.
I’m worried that this situation is going to last. All people want is to stay away for a while. They’re saying to themselves, “Here we are, we’ll live here for the time being.” But when they start picturing themselves going home, when peace returns, they realize they’ve got nothing left, that their homes have been ransacked, and there’s no money to start their businesses up again.
Should we just forget about going home and make a life for ourselves some place else? We are Central Africans, whether people like it or not. In our heads, we’re Central Africans, that’s where we were born, where we grew up and made our lives. Being thought of as foreign simply because we’re Muslims is absolutely awful.”