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Central African Republic: living in fear of attacks

22-12-2008 Feature

As humanitarian aid is distributed to the remote villages in the north of the country, the ICRC's Angela Hoyt finds out how people are coping with the effects of armed conflict, banditry and other problems.

On what seemed a normal day in May, Alladoum Narcisse and his young family were tending their cassava fields under a cloudless blue sky. All that changed when armed gangs arrived in their village and the young family fled for their lives. 

The country is suffering the effects of a protracted conflict, and now the villages in the north have also fallen victim to crime, with bandits looking for whatever they can steal. Some of the more ruthless burn the villages they have looted to terrify the villagers.

“The men   came to our village and set fire to everything, burning our houses and all that was inside: clothes, food, seeds, all our possessions, everything,” said Alladoum.

Alladoum, his wife and their children fled with as much as they could carry. They lived in the bush for several months without proper shelter, food or clean water, surviving only on roots and rain water. The family decided to move to another village. Although their new village felt safer, there were still difficulties to overcome.

   
  © British Red Cross /T. Pengilley    
 
  Kambakota village, Batangafo district. Alladoum Narcisse and his family, who fled violence in their village, received sleeping mats, tarpaulins and other relief items from the ICRC.    
    “When we arrived in this village we had a lot of problems. All the basic things we needed for everyday life had gone, and that made life very difficult. Fortunately the Red Cross came and gave us some things. That really helped.”

The ICRC delivered humanitarian aid for the first time to 7,800 people living in the 26 villages in the north of the Central African Republic. The emergency supplies – tarpaulins, blankets, mosquito nets, buckets, soap, hoes, sleeping mats, clothing and household items – were delivered to people who had fled the fighting between government forces and armed groups in 2006 and 2007, and also to people, such as Alladoum, forced to flee when bandits attacked in May 2008.

“The shock of all the change has been hard for all of us, especially the children, but the support we have received from the people in the village here and from the ICRC has really helped, " continued Alladoum.

 Having escaped death, villagers are grateful to be alive, even in the face of hardship  

   
  © British Red Cross /T. Pengilley    
 
  Bezanga village, Batangafo district. An ICRC employee views what remains of Albert Dokamba’s home following a spate of violence.   
    This is an all too familiar story in the Central African Republic. Do kamba Albert from Bezanga also saw his village burnt to the ground after tensions erupted between villagers and armed gangs. Dokamba and his family ran for their lives to the bush where they hid for several months.

" We were terrified so we fled into the forest to try and make our way to the next village, " said Dokamba.

When they felt safe enough to venture out of their hiding place, they retuned to find their home had been destroyed. There was abundant evidence that the villagers had fled in fear.

“In the past you would never have seen such tall grass growing in the village, " said Dokamba. " It was much better looked after and our fields were properly tended, but we can no longer do that since the armed gangs came and attacked us. "

Dokamba, his wife and children are now living in a neighbouring village, where Dokamba is a teacher at the local school. Several times a week he returns to his fields of cassava, maize, peanuts and sesame in the village where his home was, to obtain food for his family.

" I’m staying away during the rainy season because at the moment it is impossible to make the bricks and gather the thatch for my roof but when the dry season comes, I’ll return to rebuild my house and live here. "

" What has happened is not going to stop me from coming back to rebuild my home. This is my village, I was born here. The place where I am living now is not home, it is just the place where I work – I want to come back to my home, " Dokamba concluded.