Central African Republic: main challenge remains displaced populations
In an interview for the ICRC website, Klaus Spreyermann, head of the regional delegation in Yaoundé, talks about the organization's presence in the region and how it is responding to humanitarian needs in the Central African Republic, following a rebellion that flared up in 2005.
What are the primary activities of the regional delegation in Yaoundé?
The main and traditional activities are the promotion of international humanitarian law and cooperation with the National Societies in the countries that we are covering. We have been following these activities for years now and they are generally progressing quite well. But we also function as a regional delegation, and this is what I would call the early warning station. In fact, looking back over the last three years, I think it was quite justified to have looked so closely into the region as a whole. First, in 2004 we had to build up a delegation in Chad, and we did it from this delegation. Then this year, in operational terms, we have had to respond to the conflict that is happening in the Central African Republic.
How would you qualify the humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic, and how does the ICRC plan to respond to these needs?
I think one has to understand that the situation in the Central African Republic has multiple layers. The first is the country's extreme poverty, and it is one of the poorest in the world. Then, you have some 15 years of past rebellion, coup d'états and political and military developments, so that nowadays the public services are almost non-existent. In addition, since the end of 2005, a rebellion has flared up in the Northwest of the country and in the last two months we have seen another movement emerging from the Northeast. In humanitarian terms, all of that has resulted in the displacement of several tens of thousands of people, many as refugees towards Chad, and others who have came to Cameroon. But our main concern is internally displaced persons within the Central African Republic. According to what we have been able to do so far, we know that there are at least 50,000 internally displaced people just in the areas we are covering out of Pawa, and that tens of thousands more we cannot reach at present. So this is the main humanitarian challenge: the internal displacement of populations.
As an institution, how do you plan to respond to their needs?
With the beginning of the first rebellions that I mentioned, we immediately established our presence in the Northwest of the country by opening an office in Pawa. It works on the traditional activities of the ICRC i.e. protection, assistance and promotion of international humanitarian law in close cooperation with the National Society, so it is a full palette of activities that we have begun developing in that area. In terms of protection, we monitor and ensure that international humanitarian law is respected by the armed forces and the rebels, and we intervene on a bilateral, confidential level with those who might have violated international humanitarian law. We also visit all persons who are detained because of the conflict, and now have quite large-scale assistance activities in terms of distribution of non-food items for those displaced by the conflict.
So, in your view, how is the ICRC perceived in the region?
I would have to make the distinction between two areas that we work in. Purely as a regional delegation involved in the activities of promotion of international humanitarian law, we have a longstanding presence in this region since 1992 and have therefore developed, over time, very good relationships with political and military authorities. Where we have become more operational in terms of assistance and protection, as in the Central African Republic, there is a long way to go to make ourselves well known among the general public, and this we are currently trying to do through a programme of operational communication in the areas where we are working.
How will the regional delegation evolve in the coming months or years?
In that region it is not possible to look at years, as this is too long a timeframe. Of course, there are countries like Cameroon and Gabon, where the situation is pretty stable and where we can plan ahead for years to come. But in the more operational context of the Central African Republic, you have to look at the situation on a month-to-month basis. At present my perception is that this situation is unfortunately going to last for some time to come, so we have to get ready to respond to the humanitarian needs that continue to arise from this conflict.