30 May 2014

Central African Republic: Hoping for Peace in the Midst of Surging Violence

press release

Photo: Till Muellenmeister/IRIN
Anti Balaka fighters in Bangui

The last five decades have been tumultuous for people in Central African Republic. One of the least developed nations in the world, the country has witnessed several coups, the latest of which occurred in March 2013, when rebel forces ousted President Francois Bozizé.

Recurring violence and strife results in families living in a constant state of fear and instability, not knowing what their future holds. This past week has seen a surge of violence in the capital of Bangui, with opposing sides launching attacks and counter attacks. Gunshots ring out repeatedly. Smoke from burning tires fills the air as roadblocks prevent movement through the streets. At last count, at least 15 people were killed and another 30 injured.

When safe to do so, volunteers with the Central African Red Cross Society assist in transporting the injured to hospital.

While thousands of people have fled to the relative safety of neighbouring countries, hundreds of thousands remain inside the Central African Republic, forced from their homes into overcrowded and unhygienic camps for the internally displaced.

Hellen Nambara is an 80-year-old widow, mother of 15, and grandmother to 55. She fled to the Ngusima camp in Bangui in December, after her home was attacked.

"There were gunshots everywhere, many people were killed," she says. "Everyone ran away for fear of being killed. I could not run away. I remained in the house alone - then the worst happened. Armed men came around shooting and demanded to know where the men of the household were. I told them that I did not know. They then looted everything from the house and left."

Blind and paralyzed, Nambara remained alone in her home for a week following the attack. Eventually, one of her sons came with a wheelbarrow to carry her to the camp.

"I am grateful that I am alive and for the humanitarian assistance being accorded to us, but nothing can replace the peace of mind that comes with staying in one's own home," says Nambara.

Advocating for peace

"We have been responding to the violence since 2012," says Antoine Mbao Bogo, president of Central African Red Cross Society. "But the time has come for us all to preach peace for our country. Central African Republic has a lot of potential, with many unexploited resources. We need to embrace peace and use these resources to enhance our development."

When violence flared again last December, staff and volunteers were mobilized to conduct search and rescue operations, gather and bury the dead, provide first aid for the injured, and transport others to hospital for further treatment.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies released funds from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund, which were later followed by an emergency appeal to assist the society in providing support to at least 50,000 people through emergency health, food security, water, sanitation and hygiene promotion, and advocating for peace.

While they provide temporary refuge, emergency camps are not ideal places to live or raise a family. Nambara - and many thousands like her - desperately wants to return home. For the moment that appears impossible, not just because of the ongoing violence, but because of the uncertainty of what she will come home to.

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