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Central African Republic: the road home is paved with fear and poverty

08-08-2008 Feature

Several thousand people fled the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003 for the refugee camps of Yoroungou, Chad. Now, they have begun the journey home to their villages in the north-west of the CAR.


  ©ICRC/Barbara Lecq    
  Moyenne Sido, Central African Republic. Working with the Central African Red Cross Society, the ICRC is distributing basic supplies (such as mats, utensils, soap and mosquito nets), together with farming implements.    

Wave after wave of refugees has arrived in Moyenne Sido, a small town in the north of the CAR, ar ound 170 km from Kaga-Bandoro.

Moyenne Sido was only supposed to be a stopping-off point on the way home, but banditry is rife here, and the risk of running into an ambush set up by these modern-day highwaymen made it far too dangerous to continue.

Life in this part of the RCA is hard. The region is classed as semi-desert, and some types of subsistence culture are impossible here. To make matters worse, the risk of attack by bandits restricts traditional activities such as hunting, fishing and gathering to a radius of 5 km around the town.

Displaced persons and host families are sharing Moyenne Sido. They also share poverty, exacerbated by insecurity, a lack of infrastructure and the absence of government bodies that can cover even the most basic of needs. As a result, elderly people, orphans, handicapped people and female heads of household struggle to survive.

Jacob Ndangou, 80, is alone. He has no family and no form of support. He lives in constant fear, and his nights are horribly long. He lacks the funds or the physical strength to work in the fields. Building a shelter of some sort is out of the question.

Mbizoa Juldas lives with his wife and family in a tiny hut in Saramba, a small village not far from Moyenne Sido. At 30 he is still a young man, but Mbizoa is severely physically handicapped, probably as a result of polio. He used to have a tricycle to get around, but it needs repairing. Despite having to move on all fours, he manages to grow food on a small plot to feed his family.

Seeing the massive influx of refugees and the hardship they were suffering, the handful of volunteers in the Red Cross branches of neighbouring villages have launched a support programme. They identify those in need and build improvised shelters using branches. Most of the Red Cross volunteers have been refugees in the camps of Yoroungou themselves. “It h urts our pride not to be able to help men and women with whom we have shared so much hardship.”

To support the efforts of the local authorities and of the Central African Red Cross Society, the ICRC has launched a joint relief operation with the National Society, distributing basic supplies (such as mats, utensils, soap and mosquito nets) and farming implements. So far, the programme has helped 742 families – almost 3,000 people. For the president of the Central African Red Cross Society, “This relief programme is the culmination of a process that has restored our pride as volunteers.”