|Jesuit Refugee Service classes in Markounda, Central African Republic temporarily stalled earlier this year due to conflict. Recently, JRS resumed activities and 16,000 children returned to class. (Peter Balleis S.J. — JRS)|
|"We have no time to lose; we need to put all our available resources in place so kids don't lose another school year," said JRS CAR Director Jaime Moreno S.J., speaking from Bangui.|
(Rome) July 6, 2013 – Three months after being forced to abandon the Central African Republic (CAR), JRS teams finally returned to the country in June. Despite ongoing insecurity, Jesuit Refugee Service has opened a new project benefiting 16,000 children from conflict-affected districts of the capital, Bangui.
According to the JRS team on the ground, three months after the coup d'état, the security situation remains extremely volatile and unpredictable, making access to some parts of the country extremely difficult. Humanitarian organizations continue being prevented from re-establishing their activities for local war-affected populations.
The assessment by JRS was seconded by the Archbishop of Bagui, Dieudonné Nzapalainga, during his recent visit to France in which he described the entire population of 4.6 million people as in need of aid because the limited services that existed before the rebel takeover have now been suspended.
"CAR is slowly dying," the Archbishop said.
Before the escalation of the conflict, CAR already had the third highest infant mortality rate in the world.
Detailed assessments undertaken under the auspices of the UN Food Security Cluster in CAR revealed nearly half a million people are vulnerable to food insecurity countrywide and there is high risk of a nutritional crisis during the lean season if urgent assistance is not provided.
Moreover, protection monitoring missions in CAR highlighted continuing human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest and illegal detention, torture, armed robbery and sexual violence.
Education in the midst of insecurity. Shortly after arrival in the country and still unable to gain access to areas in central and western CAR where JRS worked prior to the evacuation, JRS teams have moved quickly to establish a project supporting education to 16,000 children from some of the worst affected districts of the capital.
The JRS education project foresees the provision of school materials and food to students, as well as stipends to teachers. The objective is to help the children from 16 schools in the capital recover the time lost out of school due to the conflict.
"We have no time to lose; we need to put all our available resources in place so kids don't lose another school year," said JRS CAR Director Jaime Moreno S.J., speaking from Bangui.
However, the volatility of the security situation complicates service delivery and planning for the future. On 29 June, just five days after the new project was launched, the whole city of Bangui was under fire again.
"It reminded me of the days preceding the coup, heavy artillery and gunfire all night," said Fr Moreno.
Last March, the Seleka rebel alliance seized Bangui, ending the decade-long rule of President Francois Bozize, saying he had not upheld his side of a January 2013 peace deal. Insecurity is rife throughout the country. The government has had little presence or control beyond the capital for many years with residents living in fear of attack by armed groups and criminal gangs.
More than 200,000 people have been displaced within the country and a further 55,000 are thought to have sought safety in neighboring states.
JRS has worked in CAR since 2008. Last year, teams worked in three locations — Bria, Markounda and Ouadda — providing formal and vocational education, pastoral care and psychosocial services to nearly 34,000 refugees and internally displaced persons.