Thousands Flee the Last Remaining Muslim Neighborhood of Bangui

Both Christian and Muslim citizens in the Central African Republic are facing continued violence, as the insecurity that has pervaded the country since last spring’s coup shows no signs of abating. Yesterday, 1,300 Muslims were evacuated from the capital Bangui, and escorted by peacekeepers to a northern area of the country that is relatively stable. Symbolic of the breakdown of relations between Christians and Muslims in the Central African Republic, some Muslims burned their cars down prior to leaving – better to torch it than have some Christians use it for their own purposes. Following their departure from PK12, of one of the last Muslim communities in the capital, further violence unfolded, as the local mosque, homes and businesses were looted.

The evacuation was a last-ditch attempt at saving the endangered lives of Muslims living in the capital. Internal displacement, however, also has its consequences. Individuals leaving everything behind are extremely vulnerable: with no home, no work and no long term food provisions, people become almost exclusively dependent on aid, whether in the form of international support or by moving into other households, whose own livelihood can be threatened by the need to share the same amount of resources among more people.

The government of the Central African Republic criticized the evacuation of Muslims towards points north, noting that the African Union peacekeepers should stick to their mandate – disarmament. The minister of reconciliation explained that this movement could support Muslim rebels’ bid to create an independent state in the north. But, in spite of the potential medium and long term effects of further displacement “in the end, the evacuation was the only way to save people’s lives,”as Amnesty International’s Joanne Mariner noted.

The World Food Program’s Chief Economist, Arif Husain, encapsulated the nature of the conflict in an interview with Devex, “the conflict is ongoing, the fighting hasn’t stopped. It is sporadic, random and it interrupts our work. Places that we can reach today, we may not be able to reach tomorrow.” It’s in this context of uncertainty that, on Saturday April 26, an unprovoked attack led by Muslims – or ex-Seleka –  on a local MSF-managed hopsital in Boguila, a town several hundred miles north of the capital, left 16 people dead, including three of the international humanitarian organization’s own personnel. This isn’t the first attack against humanitarian workers in the Central African Republic: in March, a member of ICRC’s personnel was killed.  The tit-for-tat violence continues to metastasize, and the need for urgent humanitarian is ever-growing. As highlighted by UNICEF in a recent news release, chronic child malnutrition has increased three-fold in Bangui over the course of the past year. The organization needs $11 million to fund therapeutic and preventive nutrition programs, of which only $3.8 million of this figure has so far been raised.

As a high-level delegation from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation is preparing to conduct a fact-finding and solidarity mission in the CAR tomorrow, the unpredictable nature of the conflict, the difficulty of reaching remote areas – particularly as the rainy season begins – and the sluggish international response are contributing to the continued entrenchment of violence and suffering in the Central African Republic.


Image credit: Krista Larson, twitter