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Dublin: 2 °C Tuesday 12 November, 2019
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Opinion: The worst crisis you’ve never heard of... is the CAR crisis the next Rwanda?

The Central African Republic doesn’t stir associations like Liberia or Egypt, and this anonymity is contributing to human suffering of catastrophic proportions.

Dualta Roughneen

WHEN I MENTIONED to people that I was about to be deployed to the Central African Republic (CAR) I was greeted with blank responses.

Its name does not conjure up any particular images. No romantic notions of nomads in the way that Timbuktu does, of blood diamonds in Liberia, nor of ancient pyramids in Egypt.

This anonymity is contributing to the ongoing human suffering which is now of catastrophic proportions. An estimated 50% of the 4.6 million population of the CAR are in need of humanitarian assistance. Since December 2013, more than 1 million have been forced from their homes due to the vicious escalation of an internal conflict.

Portrayed as a sectarian conflict, it is much more complex than that. There are no religious motives, but militia groups intent on using religion as an identifier for targeting enemies. The archbishop and imam have appealed for calm, but to no avail. Neither is it a new conflagration but rather a re-emergence in a bloodier manifestation than before in a nation which declared its independence from France in 1959.

The UN has categorised it as a “level 3 emergency” putting it on a par with Syria, South Sudan and the Philippines. But this unawareness and indifference has meant that an international aid appeal made earlier this year has fallen largely on deaf ears.

This is why the announcement this week of €200,000 from the Irish government in the form of tents, blankets and other vital supplies for refugees fleeing the conflict is so welcome.

Walking for three months to flee fighting

These supplies will help children like Aminatou*, 15, who recently arrived in Mbile, one of the three sites for (CAR) refugees in the Eastern region of Cameroon. She is an orphan whose mother died due to illness and whose father was killed last December in the ongoing violence.

Fleeing the conflict, Aminatou arrived in Cameroon a few weeks ago, heavily pregnant and worn out by the treacherous journey spanning over 600 kilometres.

“I walked with my grandmother for three months before I reached the Cameroonian border. It was a very hard journey. I went without food and water for days. I wasn’t sure if I would survive,” she says adding she has no idea where her husband is. “I delivered my baby a week ago on a mat inside a tent with the help of some women,” she says.

After childbirth, Aminatou was transferred to Mbile refugee site, where she is currently waiting to be allocated a family tent.

For now, she, and her baby are in a community transit tent shared by about 120 other people. “My baby and I sleep on a mat that I borrowed from a family living in the same tent.”

“I feel sick, I can feel pain all over my body. I don’t have shoes to walk about or even clothes to wear, and neither does my baby. I wrap her with this only piece of cloth I have. It is too cold in the night, but I have no option” she says.

Aminatou’s situation is one of the many tragic stories of thousands of CAR refugees currently sheltering in the five refugee sites in Cameroon.

Responding to child malnutrition

Plan’s field workers in Cameroon launched their relief effort when I arrived CAR in May by distributing first aid items and drugs at a health centre catering to refugees. Additionally, hygiene kits have been distributed to 3,000 refugee families. A hygiene kit contains bars of soap, sanitary towels for women, tooth brushes, toothpaste and a plastic bucket.

Plan is also mobilising resources to address malnutrition among refugee children and extending our response to cover the areas of child protection and education where there is a huge unmet need.

In CAR itself, Irish Aid funds are being used to provide education to young children in camps in an effort to provide a modicum of normality for the children who are living with the memory and threat of violence in their community. The assistance cannot stop the fighting but it can provide the basics for people to stay alive, and continue living with as much dignity as living in temporary shelters can allow.

Another Rwanda

Depressingly, the internal violence which has begot this mass migration of people shows no sign of abating. While the scheduled arrival of 12,000 UN peacekeepers in September may help, the two main militant groups, Seleka and Anti-Balaka, seem intent on splitting the country, cleansing their areas of Christian and Muslim factions. This will only lead to further displacement of people and make the job of aid agencies all the more difficult and dangerous.

The gravity of the situation is such that experienced aid workers I met are comparing it to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Post-Rwanda, the world may have said “never again,” yet this parallel tragedy is continuing unchecked.

Dualta Roughneen is Plan Ireland’s Disaster Risk Manager. To donate to Plan Ireland visit www.plan.ie or call 1800 829 829. 

*Name changed to protect identity

Read: Girl (11) found alive amongst dead bodies after village massacre

Read: Ireland sends €200k worth of tents, blankets and supplies to Cameroon refugees

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Dualta Roughneen

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