The United Nations refugee agency said today it is extremely concerned by reports that anti-Balaka militiamen are blocking and attacking civilians trying to flee violence in the Central African Republic (CAR).
“Over the past two weeks, our colleagues in Cameroon have been seeing refugees arrive with wounds from machetes or gunshots,” Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing in Geneva.
She said UNHCR staff had also seen increasing numbers of people crossing into Cameroon via remote border entry points in an effort to evade the mostly Christian anti-Balaka militias.
“New arrivals told our colleagues that anti-Balaka militias have blocked main roads to Cameroon, forcing them to wade through the bush for two to three months before reaching the border,” she said. “The refugees also said that the anti-Balaka attacked them during their flight.”
The majority of the new arrivals are women, children and elderly people, and all are Muslims. They told UNHCR staff that the men stayed in CAR to create self-defence groups to protect their community and their cattle.
“UNHCR is calling on the anti-Balaka to stop preventing civilians from fleeing to neighbouring countries for safety. We are also calling on all sides to the conflict to renounce violence,” said Ms. Fleming.
Over 290,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries in search of refuge from the ongoing conflict in CAR, which began in December 2012 with attacks by mainly Muslim Séléka rebels. More than 650,000 are also internally displaced and 2.2 million, about half the population, are in need of humanitarian aid.
UNHCR said that despite the obstacles to their movement, an average of 10,000 people now cross weekly from CAR into eastern Cameroon. With the main entry points at Garoua Boulai and Kenzou no longer accessible due to anti-Balaka activities, people are using alternative routes.
“This has caused the number of entry points into Cameroon to grow from 12 to 27 over last three weeks, making it more challenging for our colleagues to monitor the border,” Ms. Fleming said.
Since the beginning of the year, Cameroon has received 69,389 refugees from CAR. This is on top of the 92,000 Centrafricain refugees who have fled in various waves since 2004 to escape rebel groups and bandits in the north of their country.
In a statement yesterday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon renewed his call for an immediate end to the killings, targeted attacks and other atrocious human rights violations that continue with total impunity in CAR.
He also welcomed the establishment by the Security Council of a UN peacekeeping operation in the country, which he hoped will lead to the immediate, concrete and sustainable support that the Central African people need and deserve.