Geneva — Fifteen United Nations and private humanitarian agencies are appealing for $274 million to fund emergency aid for people fleeing violence in the Central African Republic. Nearly 200,000 people have fled the C.A.R. since December, but the U.N. says it expects that number to grow to more than 360,000 by the end of the year.
The funding will meet the acute needs of refugees from the Central African Republic who have escaped to neighboring Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo. It also will benefit thousands of returnees and third-country nationals mainly from Chad, Cameroon and Congo whose families had settled in the C.A.R.
The U.N. says these people are particularly vulnerable as they are forced to go to countries where they no longer have any ties or support systems. But, the most vulnerable of all are the children. The U.N. Children's Fund says more than half of those seeking asylum or displaced inside the C.A.R. are children.
UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa Region Manuel Fontaine says C.A.R. refugees, mainly women and children, arrive in countries of asylum exhausted and in very bad shape. He says many children are severely malnourished and in need of special therapeutic feeding.
He says a large number of children have become separated from their families and arrive in a strange country completely on their own.
"We identify more than 1,000 children, which is a very high proportion to the number of people who have actually crossed the border," he said. "This seems to indicate, as we imagine, a lot of people have left under a lot of stress and in a hurry for their protection. There are good systems in place to identify those children and, at least, protect them immediately and start tracing and reunification."
Fontaine says only about 10 percent of these children have been reunited with their families. He says this is a very low rate, but UNICEF is working with other agencies, both inside the C.A.R. and in the countries of refuge, to trace the children's families.
He says UNICEF and its partners also are running measles campaigns and soon will begin a polio immunization campaign in Chad. He says concern is rising about the risk of diseases such as malaria and cholera as the rainy season begins.
He tells VOA the window for positioning food and other relief supplies before the rains hit hard in July is narrowing. He says he fears running out of time.
"We are pre-positioning a cholera treatment capacity, for example, in some areas because we might have that," he said. "We are pre-positioning ready-to-use therapeutic food. So we are doing it. I hope we will have time and means to do it sufficiently and in sufficient quantities because it is true the roads are going to be extremely hard to use."
The United Nations says hundreds of thousands of victims of the C.A.R.'s brutal civil war are in desperate straits. It says they are struggling to restart their lives in countries that are as impoverished as their own and they need help.
The U.N. says money is needed to provide shelter, food, water and sanitation, health and basic needs. UNICEF says money also is needed for education so children, who have been uprooted from their homes, can recover a bit of normality in their lives.