The United Nations refugee agency said today it is extremely concerned for more than 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and over 20,000 refugees who have been affected by recent insecurity in the Central African Republic (CAR).
Over the past month, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners visited parts of the capital, Bangui, as well as other areas to assess the situation of people affected by the insecurity in the country, where the government was ousted three months ago.
"The findings are very troubling," UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva. "Overall, there remains a serious absence of security, and lawlessness is widespread."
Staff on the missions received reports of arbitrary arrest and illegal detention, torture, extortion, armed robbery, physical violence including sexual violence, rape and attempted rape, abduction, restriction of movement, targeted lootings and attacks on civilians. Villages and houses had been burnt down in some areas by armed groups, he noted.
"Violence against women, girls and boys had also increased," said Mr. Edwards, adding that humanitarian agencies have been giving assistance and counselling to victims in some locations.
Although schools have reopened in parts of CAR, in many areas they remain closed. Access to health and basic services is also very limited. Mothers with newborn babies in many areas have no access to medical care and new births are not being registered.
The dire humanitarian situation in the CAR has been exacerbated by fighting in the past six months which further deteriorated even the most basic services. Violence erupted in December 2012 when the Séléka rebel coalition launched a series of attacks. A peace agreement was reached in January, but the rebels again seized Bangui in March, forcing President François Bozizé to flee.
Despite the volatile security situation, UNHCR and its partners are coordinating efforts to assist refugees - mainly Congolese and Sudanese nationals - living in camps in CAR.
UNHCR, along with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Medical Corps, has been able to distribute food to some 11,000 refugees.
In neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where over 40,000 CAR refugees have arrived, UNHCR continues to work with the national authorities to relocate refugees from the bordering areas into safer locations.
Nearly 60,000 people have fled CAR since December 2012. As more people continue to flee insecurity, the total number of refugees from CAR in the region now stands at over 220,000. UNHCR has recorded some 1,000 refugees arriving in DRC last month.