Wednesday's deadly attack in the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), on a church that was sheltering thousands of people, endangers some of the last havens for those fleeing rampant violence in the war-battered country, the United Nations refugee agency said today.
"Churches, monasteries and mosques have till now been safe havens for internally displaced persons across the CAR," Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters at a briefing in Geneva.
At least 17 people were killed and 27 were missing after the attack on Notre Dame de Fatima in Bangui, which, along with other attacks in the recent upsurge of violence in the country, was strongly condemned yesterday by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The attack is among the worst on any displaced persons site in Bangui since Séléka rebels were ousted from power in January 2014 and inter-community retaliatory violence spiralled, with human rights violations and clashes leaving 2.2 million in need of humanitarian aid.
At the time of the attack, Notre Dame de Fatima was hosting 9,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), including many who had been there since December and some 2,050 who moved there only a week earlier to escape from a recent rise in insecurity in nearby neighbourhoods, Ms. Lejeune-Kaba said.
She added that in Bangui, 32 out of 43 IDP sites are religious institutions.
"UNHCR strongly condemns this attack against innocent civilians. We call again on all sides of the armed conflict to protect civilians, in line with their obligations under international law," she said.
"We also call on all sides of the conflict to allow for the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance and unhindered access to the people in need of protection and aid."
Providing details on the church slaughter, she said that the attackers arrived in pick-up trucks in the early afternoon and threw grenades into the church grounds before opening fire with small arms.
The 17 killed during the attack include a priest, and 27 civilians were reportedly abducted by assailants who drove them to an unknown location. Two children and two adults also succumbed to their injuries on Thursday.