With fighting closing in around her family towards the end of last year, one woman tells of her flight from the Central African Republic...and how she sought refuge in the neighbouring Republic of Congo. With help from the humanitarian community, she and her charges have been able to survive what they hope is only temporary exile.
Haroun Fana is a widow from Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). After the murder of her neighbour and his son by a communal militia group, she decided to flee the city with nine children and grandchildren.
“We couldn’t endure the fact that they had killed a father in front of his own family”, she says, “We decided to leave the town and go somewhere safer”.
That was last December, one year after the start of civil conflict between the CAR government and the Séléka rebel coalition. With fighting escalating towards the end of last year between Séléka’s mainly Muslim fighters and so-called ‘anti-balaka’ Christian militias, the UN warned the country was at risk of spiraling into genocide. In less than half a year, nearly one million people, a quarter of the population, have been displaced.
Crossing the border
Haroun and her family fled to a neighboring town but that was also gripped by violence. She heard that safety could be found across the border in the Republic of Congo (Roc) and decided to take her family there. Two days after crossing into RoC, they made contact with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, which helped them get settled in a refugee camp in the Congolese town of Betou. They were now safe and at least had a roof over their heads.
A major challenge at that time, however, was lack of food. The World Food Programme was doing its best to provide assistance to the refugees in the north of Congo but there were shortages of food stocks, largely due to the fighting in Bangui which is a commercial and transshipment hub for the region. With humanitarian supplies blocked in the CAR capital, it was not long before food distributions to refugees from DRC and CAR were affected. There were some difficult months for the refugees but, by March, the situation was starting to improve.
Serving hot meals
“After two weeks without food, I began to regret my arrival here,” says Haroun remembering the start of the year. “We were just sleeping in temporary shelters provided by UNHCR. We got help from some of our fellow-countrymen who gave us food from time to time when they had some to spare. Then WFP started serving hot meals and the hope of life came back.”
Since mid-January, food has been transported from the RoC capital, Brazzaville, to the north. And, by early April, supplies were once again arriving from Bangui. Now, with some 1,600 metric tons of food stocks in WFP warehouses in the RoC’s northernmost region, WFP has sufficient cereals, pulses and salt to cover distributions until June when the water level of the River Ubangi rises sufficiently to allow barges to navigate it.
“Bangui became unbearable with the fighting,” says Haroun. “We pray that WFP will continue with its assistance because we want to stay here until calm is restored in our country.”