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Central African Republic: Serving amid the chaos
May 14, 2014

Central African Republic: Serving amid the chaos
The Jesuit Refugee Service Central African Republic team with director Jaime Moreno S.J. in the dark blue top. (Jesuit Refugee Service)
Jesuit Refugee Service is also conducting an assessment into education needs in the rapidly changing security and humanitarian scenario. Certainly the crisis in CAR is far from over.

(Rome) May 14, 2014 — Jesuit Refugee Service has set up temporary safe spaces for children in a site for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Bangui, the battered capital of the Central African Republic. Teachers have been recruited and 16 sheds for classes and other activities were erected in early February in a camp at the Monastery of Boy Rabe. The activity is set to run at least until the end of July*.

Never an icon of stability and good governance, Central African Republic (CAR) has been falling apart since the Seleka rebels marched on Bangui in March 2013. The mainly Muslim rebels ousted President François Bozize and perpetrated widespread human rights abuses, destruction and looting. Their brief hold on power ended when Christian militia, the anti-Balaka, hit back. Civilians have since been caught in the tit-for-tat violence that has raged across the country.

The unrest forced JRS to stop work that had been under way for years in two provinces affected by previous conflicts. Shortly after Bangui was attacked last year, a core team visited IDP sites there and distributed food. In June, despite the massive insecurity, JRS launched a project in 26 schools aimed at getting children to go back to complete the academic year. The draw was school meals, since hunger as well as danger had stopped parents from sending their children to school.

In January this year, JRS started work on the child-friendly spaces in Boy Rabe camp. Although most of the displaced people at Boy Rabe have now left, presumably to return home, some parents are bringing their children back to attend JRS classes. Some 3,200 children have registered but the number of attendees fluctuates due to insecurity and hunger among other reasons.

JRS is also conducting an assessment into education needs in the rapidly changing security and humanitarian scenario. Certainly the crisis in CAR is far from over. As of mid-March, some 600,000 people were internally displaced and up to 300,000 more had escaped to neighboring countries. Muslims have been displaced in droves, fleeing vicious reprisal attacks by the anti-Balaka. The few Muslims left in Bangui are under the protection of foreign troops — the rest have gone.

Although Bangui is now somewhat calmer, the situation in the city remains volatile. Crime is on the rise and food prices have soared amid shortages and worsening malnutrition. Across the country, the humanitarian response remains inadequate despite efforts on the ground, and attacks on aid agencies have increased. Regional and French peacekeeping troops badly need reinforcements to bring the situation under control. The priority is to restore security but right now, the fate of CAR is hanging in the balance and many think it will likely get worse before it gets any better.

Testimonies of people in the Central African Republic:

• I am a high school student, I was displaced to another part of Bangui and the war has been a very traumatizing experience. I saw innocent people killed with machetes and guns, houses and belongings burned down and looted and profound misery in IDP sites. I was constantly afraid for my family because we were displaced in different places. We young people realize we are living a very sensitive moment for the future of our country and that politicians are manipulating us. Christians and Muslims used to live in harmony before the infamous date of 24 March. The archbishop and imam of Bangui have been doing everything so that peace may reign and have warned us many times not to allow ourselves to be manipulated by politics and politicians. My hope is that peace and security will return to my country.

• My greatest need is peace! From my perspective as a Catholic, my Church is playing a significant role in this crisis by preaching peace and discouraging people, especially Christians, from taking up arms. The Church has also been preaching forgiveness, reconciliation and religious tolerance. It is however unfortunate that some people, for selfish interests, are giving the conflict religious undertones.

• I live and work in Bangui. Recently I witnessed horrible scenes of desolation: people beaten, mutilated by machetes, the pillaging of shops and destruction of homes, women and children running in all directions in search of a safer place. I have been living in permanent fear, locked up at home during the day and always on the alert at night in case of attacks. I put together a self- defense committee in my neighborhood, gathering Christians and Muslims to tell people to return home and to see that badly intentioned people do not infiltrate the neighborhood to sow disorder. I try to keep my serenity and not to give way to panic.

This story is reprinted from the March 2014 issue of Servir
*Originally set to run through April, the activity was recently extended through July. You can support JRS in West Africa by clicking here and making a secure online donation today.

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Mr Christian Fuchs