Amidst post-election violence in the Central African Republic (CAR), more than 200,000 people have fled for their own safety, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday.
Boris Cheshirkov, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) sounded the alarm at a regular press briefing, telling journalists that more than 30,000 people had crossed the border into neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Republic of Congo.
UNHCR has strengthened its presence along the Ubangi River where some 24,196 people fled into the DRC’s provinces of Bas Uele and North-Ubangui, he said.
“At least 15,000 arrived in Ndu village following attacks on the towns of Damara and Bangassou on 2 and 3 January”, which, with a population of 3,500, had “placed a massive strain on resources and host families”, he added.
Another 4,434 people have reached Cameroon, 2,196 are in Chad and some 70 have crossed into the Republic of Congo, the agency is reporting.
As a preventative measure, since 15 December some 185,000 Central Africans have remained in the country, but fled into the bush, said Mr. Cheshirkov.
Although roughly 112,000 have since returned home, estimates from the UN humanitarian affairs coordination office (OCHA) reveal that around 62,000 people remain newly displaced.
“The reasons why they move have been several, most are linked to the fear of violence and also as a preventative measure…We have had reports that they’ve been staying nearby home as a preventative measure until situation calms”, said Mr. Cheshirkov.
“They reported they did witness violence, and fled”, he added, noting that receiving authorities are already encountering problems coping with the influx, and “the need to be provided with assistance is there”.
The UN official also raised concerns over reports of human rights violations linked to the 27 December presidential elections.
Be a good neighbour
On behalf of UNHCR, the spokesperson urged governments in all neighbouring countries to “continue granting access to asylum and support local authorities in registering new arrivals”.
As most newcomers are staying with host communities or in makeshift shelters, he said their needs were urgent, including water and shelter as well as health and sanitation facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases.
UNHCR is doing its part by working with the authorities and humanitarian partners to support the most vulnerable, including in Cameroon where it is providing protection and aid.
As refugees are being registered in Chad, the World Food Programme (WFP) is providing food rations to the new arrivals, and UNHCR is assisting with a mobile health clinic.
And the UN refugee agency continues to work closely with authorities and partners inside CAR – monitoring the protection of the displaced and supporting returnees and reintegration efforts.
The spokesperson noted that nearly a quarter of the country’s population of 4.7 million was forcibly displaced by the end of 2020, including 630,000 refugees in neighbouring countries and 630,000 displaced internally.
Sudan: 250 killed, over 100,000 displaced as violence surges in Darfur
A sharp uptick in intercommunal violence in Sudan’s Darfur region has forced more than 100,000 people to flee their homes in search of safety, including many into neighbouring Chad, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported on Friday.
According to the agency, 250 people – including three humanitarian workers – also lost their lives in the clashes that started on 15 January in West Darfur province, and spread into South Darfur the next day.
“These refugees – the majority of them women and children – have been hosted in four very remote locations that lack basic services or public infrastructure, where they have been sheltering under trees,” he said.
“Due to the COVID-19 situation, Chadian local authorities are directing the new arrivals to a transit site, where they will undergo quarantine before being relocated to an existing refugee camp, away from the border,” the UNHCR spokesperson added.
He said that the UN agency is rushing supplies to the area to respond to their needs, as well as mobilizing resources as part of an inter-agency response.
‘Break the cycle of violence’
Authorities in the region have been attempting to contain the situation and have deployed security forces to the area but “severe gaps” in protection remain, according to the UN human rights office.
However, an “imminent risk” of further violence remains, in an environment “where decades-old ethnic and tribal tensions that were further stoked by the previous regime continue to fester”, OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said at the same briefing.
There are reports that local health facilities are unable to cope with the high number of casualties, she added.
The OHCHR spokesperson called on the Government of Sudan to protect of civilians as well as restore public order and the rule of law in Darfur.
She also called for thorough and effective investigations into the violence to bring the perpetrators to justice and “to break the cycle of armed citizens taking the law into their own hands to avenge attacks on members of their communities.”
A vast, strife-torn region
Darfur, a vast region roughly the size of Spain and plagued by violence for years, was the site of a United Nations-African Union hybrid peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) that was deployed to protect civilians, facilitate aid delivery, and support efforts to address root causes of the conflict.
The mandate of UNAMID ended last year and it ceased operations on 31 December 2020, roughly two weeks before the latest round of violence.
The mission is currently drawing down, a process that includes repatriation of troops, their vehicles and other equipment; the separation of civilian staff; and the closure of its offices.
COVID ‘vaccine hoarding’ putting Africa at risk
Africa is in danger of being left behind in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines as countries in other regions strike bilateral deals, thus driving up prices, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Thursday.
Although vaccines have been administered in 50 wealthier nations, Guinea is the sole low-income country on the continent to receive doses, with only 25 people being inoculated so far. Meanwhile, Seychelles is the only African country to start a national vaccination campaign.
‘We first, not me first’
“We first, not me first, is the only way to end the pandemic. Vaccine hoarding will only prolong the ordeal and delay Africa’s recovery. It is deeply unjust that the most vulnerable Africans are forced to wait for vaccines while lower-risk groups in rich countries are made safe”, said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“Health workers and vulnerable people in Africa need urgent access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.”
An international coalition known as the COVAX Facility was established to ensure all countries will have equal access to any vaccines against the new coronavirus disease.
It is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and WHO.
The COVAX Facility has secured two billion doses of vaccine from five producers, with options for over one billion more. Delivery is set to begin soon, according to Thabani Maphosa, Managing Director, Country Programmes at GAVI.
“This massive international undertaking has been made possible thanks to donations, work towards dose-sharing deals and deals with manufacturers that have brought us to almost two billion doses secured. We look forward to rollout in the coming weeks”, he said.
COVAX has committed to vaccinating at least 20 per cent of the population in Africa by the end of this year.
Priority will be given to health workers and other vulnerable groups, such as older persons and those with pre-existing health conditions.
An initial 30 million vaccine doses are expected to begin arriving in countries by March. Overall, a maximum of 600 million doses will be disbursed, based on two doses per person.
WHO said timelines and quantities could change, for example if vaccines fail to meet regulatory approval or due to challenges related to production, delivery and funding.
‘Complex’ emergency unfolding in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado
UN agencies voiced deep concern on Wednesday over the worsening humanitarian crisis in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, where attacks by armed groups have forced more than 565,000 to flee their homes.
According to the agencies, growing insecurity and poor infrastructure are making it increasingly difficulty to reach families “completely reliant” on humanitarian assistance, amid fears that imminent rains and threat of cyclones could further compound the challenges.
“The crisis is a complex security, human rights, humanitarian and development emergency, underscoring the imperative of continuing to provide life-saving assistance while collectively supporting Government-led long-term resilience building”, the statement added.
In December, the UN officials visited Mozambique to assess the needs of the displaced populations as well as of the host communities.
They heard extremely moving accounts from displaced men, women and children in the city of Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado, and in the districts of Ancuabe and Chiúre – people whose lives have been upended by conflict and insecurity.
While acknowledging that much has been done to help victims of the crisis, the UN officials stressed that with displacement increasing daily, the lack of adequate food, water, sanitation, shelter, health, protection and education, was exacerbating an already dire situation, which could be further complicated by on-going torrential rains.
Urgent support needed
The UN agencies also raised concerns over the continuing impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which is keeping most schools closed.
There is an urgent need to expand protection, healthcare, food and nutrition programmes, vaccination efforts and psychosocial counselling, and to aid displaced farming and fishing families to re-establish sustainable livelihoods, they added.
They also urged support for adequate resettlement of uprooted families straining the already limited resources of impoverished host communities, and Government efforts to effectively register and assist the displaced.
The senior officials are urging the Government of Mozambique and the international community “to step up efforts to end all forms of violence in the country, including gender-based violence and child marriage, and to invest more in women and girls as agents of progress and change,” the statement said.
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