Almost 20,000 people from the Central African Republic (CAR) have crossed into Cameroon since the beginning of February to escape the ongoing violence in their homeland, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.
This is up from 4,764 CAR refugees in the first week of this month, and it brings to 35,142 the total number of CAR refugees who have fled to Cameroon since March 2013, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The conflict in CAR erupted when mainly Muslim Séléka rebels launched attacks in December 2012 and has taken on increasingly sectarian overtones as mainly Christian militias known as anti-Balaka (anti-machete) have taken up arms.
The crisis has already claimed thousands of lives, uprooted almost one million people and left more than 2.5 million people in need of immediate humanitarian assistance.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other senior UN officials have called for increased international efforts to end the killing and alleviate the suffering of the people of CAR.
Yesterday, Mr. Ban put forward a six-point initiative for addressing the most urgent priorities and needs, including more troops and police, increased efforts for the peace process, support for the Government, funding for humanitarian assistance and accountability.
"We must step up our efforts," he told reporters after briefing the Security Council. "The international community is working hard to protect people from atrocities, restore stability and provide emergency relief, but it is simply not enough."
UNHCR said the growing number of new arrivals in Cameroon and their need for food and other basic necessities - such as cooking oil, rice, cassava, fish, beef, vegetables, sugar, salt, soap, fuel and other items - have resulted in higher prices and shortage of goods on the local market. Local residents are also feeling the pinch with rent increases.
"New arrivals from CAR are living in appalling conditions. Most of them lack food and shelter. Generous host communities have taken in many people, but they cannot share their homes and resources with everyone," UNHCR spokesperson Dan McNorton told reporters in Geneva.
Before the current crisis, Cameroon was hosting 92,000 refugees from CAR; the first started to arrive in 2006 to escape from rebel groups and bandits in the north of their country.
UN agencies and humanitarian partners are scaling up their delivery of life-saving aid as fast as security and access conditions allow, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), whose chief, Valerie Amos, just concluded a visit to CAR.
"However, access to people in need continues to be severely constrained by active hostilities, attacks on aid workers and assets and interference into relief activities," OCHA stated.
The humanitarian community is calling on donors to give generously to support relief efforts in CAR, which is currently severely underfunded. Only 15 per cent of the resources needed for the $551 million Strategic Response Plan for CAR have been received, despite generous pledges made at a funding conference in Brussels last month.