Last Updated: Friday, 25 July 2014, 12:52 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Central African Republic

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Central African Republic , 1 June 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3eddc49c0.html [accessed 26 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Nearly 15,000 citizens of Central African Republic (CAR) were refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2002, including an estimated 10,000 in Congo-Kinshasa, nearly 3,000 in Congo-Brazzaville, and about 1,000 in Chad. An estimated 10,000 people were internally displaced in CAR.

Some 50,000 refugees from other countries lived in CAR at year's end, including 35,000 or more from Sudan, about 11,000 from Congo-Kinshasa, nearly 2,000 from Chad, and 2,000 from various other countries.

Pre-2002 Events

Sporadic political violence and instability have plagued CAR since the mid-1990s. Military mutinies caused tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in Bangui, the capital, during 1996–97. Peacekeeping troops from several African countries helped restore order and enabled most displaced families to return home.

After several years of tense calm, former president Andre Kolingba attempted a coup against elected President Ange-Felix Patasse in 2001. Bangui suffered heavy damage and hundreds of deaths in ten days of fighting that drove 70,000 people from their homes. The coup attempt failed, and two-thirds of the uprooted returned home by the end of 2001. Most of those who remained uprooted were ethnic Yakoma who feared retribution because the coup plotters were also Yakoma.

2002 Violence and Displacement

Cautious optimism dominated the political landscape in early 2002. Thousands of refugees repatriated to CAR, many political and military exiles returned, and 200 soldiers from Libya, Sudan, and Djibouti provided protection for President Patasse.

A mid-year UN report concluded that "the overall situation in the Central African Republic has developed favorably in many respects," but warned that the situation was "extremely volatile." UN officials expressed concern that former soldiers might resort to crime or violence out of frustration over their economic difficulties.

The UN warning proved prescient. Insurgents loyal to former army commander Francois Bozize attempted a coup in October, provoking six days of heavy fighting and aerial bombings in Bangui. Rebel forces from neighboring Congo-Kinshasa rushed to assist the weak CAR military in exchange for political and economic favors.

Although the coup failed, at year's end insurgent forces controlled north central CAR and had effectively cut off the capital from the eastern half of the country – disrupting the already impoverished economy. Fighting continued in northern areas of CAR during the final two months of the year.

Government officials reported that the violence in Bangui killed 22 civilians; other sources suspected a much higher death toll.

Congolese rebels fighting on the side of the government looted and raped the local population, creating a popular backlash against Congolese civilians residing in the capital.

Pro-government troops reportedly massacred more than 100 Chadian civilians in Bangui in retaliation for the Chadian government's alleged support for the rebels.

Population Displacement

Thousands of people fled their homes during the violence in Bangui, particularly in northern sections of the city. Several thousand fled to villages as much as 50 miles (80 km) north of Bangui before rapidly returning home once the violence in the capital ended.

A small number of Bangui residents managed to flee across the country's nearby border with Congo-Kinshasa, despite harassment at the border by CAR government soldiers who blocked some families from leaving.

The violence triggered resentment against Congolese and Chadians who lived in Bangui primarily as migrants. Up to 10,000 Chadians fled back to Chad, according to government officials there.

Some 1,000 to 2,000 Congolese nationals took shelter in their country's embassy in Bangui and returned to Congo-Kinshasa in November with assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It was unclear how many, if any, of the Chadian and Congolese returnees were refugees.

Additional population displacement occurred during November and December as the violence moved to northern villages. Some 6,000 residents fled internally from Bossembele, 100 miles (160 km) north of Bangui. About 1,000 refugees from CAR fled to Chad, according to government officials there.

Security concerns prevented most aid agencies from traveling to northern rural areas to deliver supplies and assess humanitarian needs. Local Red Cross workers distributed blankets to displaced people near Bossembele, but could provide only limited amounts of food and tents.

The World Food Program provided food to 40,000 or more of the neediest people in Bangui, but remained unable to reach 5,000 displaced people in northern CAR at year's end. Aid workers requested new vaccination supplies to ward off a possible meningitis epidemic.

As the year ended, relief agencies were preparing to conduct their first in-depth assessments of humanitarian needs in rebel-held areas.

Refugees from Sudan

Large numbers of Sudanese refugees entered CAR in the early 1990s, fleeing civil war in their own country. Few have repatriated.

Nearly all 35,000 Sudanese refugees lived in a camp at Mboki, more than 700 miles (about 1,200 km) from the capital in the isolated southeast corner of the country, near the borders of Sudan and Congo-Kinshasa.

Several hundred lived in Kaga-Bandoro camp about 200 miles (340 km) north of Bangui, while about 500 resided in Bangui.

Some 500 to 1,000 new refugees arrived in CAR during 2002, after a difficult journey on foot from Sudan. Many of the new arrivals were exhausted and malnourished, and took temporary shelter in an abandoned school on the outskirts of Mboki. UNHCR provided up to five months of food for the new refugees.

Bad roads and vast distances have made regular delivery of humanitarian aid to Mboki camp unreliable for years. The armed insurgency in CAR effectively cut all road access to Mboki during the final two months of 2002, further isolating the refugee population.

Long-term refugees at Mboki camp have become largely self-sufficient by growing crops on about two-and-a-half acres (one hectare) of land per family. The refugee site included a primary and secondary school as well as a health clinic.

As in previous years, incursions by Sudanese rebels into eastern CAR continued to pose protection problems at Mboki. Six refugees died of gun wounds and other violence during the year. Local police continued to subject refugees at Mboki to arbitrary arrest and petty corruption.

The general lack of security at Mboki and along highways near the site forced UNHCR to close its office there in September.

Refugees from Congo-Kinshasa

Some 11,000 Congolese refugees continued to live in CAR after fleeing warfare in Congo-Kinshasa in previous years. About 600 new refugees and asylum seekers arrived during 2002.

Most Congolese refugees lived on their own in Bangui. About 3,000 lived at Molangue camp, where aid programs provided food, health care, schools, adult literacy training, small business loans, and other income-generating activities.

Aid workers and refugees built three new classrooms, helping to reduce class sizes to an average of about 50 students per room.

UNHCR announced that food aid to Molangue would end in 2003 and pushed the refugee population to become self-sufficient. Camp residents grew their own food on about two-and-a-half acres (one hectare) of land per household.

About 400 Congolese refugees transferred from Bangui to Molangue late in the year because of threats against Congolese civilians in the capital. It is possible that some Congolese refugees repatriated with other Congolese nationals to escape post-coup violence in CAR, but the identity of returnees was unavailable.

Refugees from Chad

Up to 18,000 Chadian refugees fled to CAR during the 1990s because of human rights violations by government and rebel troops in their country. Most refugees have returned to Chad during the past seven years.

Nearly 2,000 Chadian refugees continued to live in CAR at the end of 2002, supporting themselves with little or no assistance from aid agencies. Some refugees reported that CAR government troops mistreated them after the coup attempt.

Although no organized repatriation occurred, it is possible that some Chadian refugees returned home on their own to escape post-coup harassment in CAR.

Asylum Seekers from Rwanda Rwandan asylum seekers in CAR have attracted controversy because some of them allegedly participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

They trekked across the breadth of Congo-Kinshasa in 1996–97 to escape Rwandan soldiers who hunted them until they reached CAR. CAR officials suspected that some Rwandan asylum seekers participated in a 1991 coup attempt against the CAR government.

Government authorities continued to classify the Rwandan population as "asylum seekers in transit" and refused to provide aid or identity documents to most of them.

An agreement between the governments of CAR and Rwanda in February 2002 arranged for the asylum seekers to return home voluntarily, but the vast majority refused to repatriate because they said they feared forced conscription into the Rwandan army.

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