Central African Republic
Central African Republic hosted nearly 55,000 refugees at the end of 1999, including about 35,000 from Sudan, an estimated 15,000 from Congo-Kinshasa, and nearly 5,000 from Chad. Several hundred asylum seekers from Rwanda remained in the country at year's end.
Approximately 15,000 to 25,000 new refugees from Congo-Kinshasa fled to Central African Republic during 1999, although some remained in the country only a few months before repatriating.
No significant population displacement occurred in Central African Republic during 1999 despite strong political tensions. It was the second consecutive year the country avoided large-scale political violence.
Military mutinies during 1996-97 forced up to 70,000 people to flee their homes. UN peacekeeping troops from several African countries helped restore order during 1997-98, enabling most uprooted families to return home. About 1,300 UN peacekeepers remained in the country during 1999.
Refugees from Sudan
Large numbers of refugees entered Central African Republic from Sudan in the early 1990s because of civil war in their own country. Few have repatriated. More than 1,000 new Sudanese refugees arrived during 1998. Fewer than 100 new refugees arrived in 1999.
Nearly all of the 35,000 Sudanese refugees lived in a camp at Mboki, in the isolated southeast corner of the country, near the borders with Sudan and Congo-Kinshasa. About 600 others lived in Bangui, the capital, and in Kaga-Bandoro camp about 200 miles (340 km) north of Bangui. Most Sudanese refugees at Mboki camp shared linguistic ties with local residents.
Refugees at Mboki received food, water, health, education, and agricultural assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR funds also supported school construction and education equipment for 5,000 refugee students, and paid teachers' salaries. A health clinic built with UNHCR funds served refugees and the local population. UNHCR paid medical staff salaries.
Although Sudanese refugees have experienced protection problems at Mboki camp in previous years because of its proximity to the Sudan border and some refugees' links to Sudanese rebels, UNHCR reported no serious protection incidents during 1999.
Refugees from Congo-Kinshasa
Warfare in Congo-Kinshasa (formerly Zaire, also now known as Democratic Republic of Congo) pushed some 7,000 refugees into Central African Republic during the final weeks of 1998 and the first month of 1999. A second wave of 10,000 to 20,000 new Congolese refugees arrived in mid-1999.
More than 1,000 refugees repatriated, primarily by air, from Central African Republic to the capital of Congo-Kinshasa late in the year, with UNHCR assistance. Others might have repatriated on their own, without assistance and without being counted.
An estimated 15,000 Congolese refugees remained in Central African Republic as the year ended, although many of them remained unregistered and therefore uncounted.
Newly arrived refugees primarily sought shelter in Bangui and in the town of Mobay, nearly 230 miles (about 370 km) from the capital. UNHCR attempted to transfer 5,000 new arrivals by truck to an established refugee camp, Boubou, near the town of Bossangoa, about 170 miles (about 270 km) north of Bangui. Most of the refugees were reluctant to transfer to the camp, however, and UNHCR managed to transfer only a few hundred.
Thousands of Congolese refugees preferred to live in Bangui, where they settled among friends and relatives or received aid at a UNHCR-assisted camp in the city. Other refugee families lived in schools and public buildings in the border area.
Some 5,000 Congolese soldiers, mixed among the civilian refugees, also fled into Central African Republic during the year and posed serious security problems for refugees and local residents. Rampaging Congolese soldiers allegedly looted, raped, and harassed local citizens in January. The UN Security Council expressed alarm in July that undisciplined Congolese soldiers seeking refuge in Central African Republic might destabilize refugee camps there.
In August, residents in the town of Mobay reported that Congolese soldiers were engaging in violent criminal activity and had damaged local crops. Chadian troops also participated in rapes and robberies after returning from the war in Congo-Kinshasa. Government authorities responded by airlifting most of the Congolese soldiers back to Congo-Kinshasa by September.
The president of Central African Republic wrote to the UN in July to request humanitarian assistance for the thousands of new Congolese refugees in his country. UNHCR complained of funding shortages from international donors. "Contributions are not even meeting all the needs of long-time refugees, much less the newest arrivals," UNHCR stated in July.
Some 2,000 Congolese refugees at Bangui's river port were living in "unacceptable" conditions with food shortages and deteriorating health, Médecins Sans Frontières reported in September. Nine refugees at the site died in December when a wall collapsed on them. UNHCR began repatriating some refugees by air from the Bangui port site in November, and shifted other refugees from the port to new locations within the country.
Refugees from Chad
Large numbers of Chadian refugees fled to Central African Republic in the early 1990s to escape abuses by government and rebel troops in their country.
The refugee population peaked at 18,000 in 1994. Some 10,000 Chadians repatriated from Central African Republic in 1995, followed by smaller numbers in succeeding years. Some 3,000 new Chadian refugees fled to Central African Republic in 1998. Nearly 200 new refugees arrived during 1999.
Improved stability in Chad raised hopes that large numbers of Chadian refugees would be able to repatriate during 1999. UNHCR predicted that up to 4,000 might return from Central African Republic. Although delays prevented large-scale repatriation during the year, UNHCR predicted that many refugees would voluntarily depart Central African Republic for home during 2000.
In the final weeks of 1999, some 1,500 Chadian refugees expressed an urgent desire to repatriate because they feared for their safety in Central African Republic. Tensions between local residents and Chadian nationals residing in the country had escalated during the year prior to national elections in Central African Republic. Some Chadian refugees indicated that the scheduled withdrawal of UN peacekeeping troops in early 2000 might leave them unprotected.
Some 1,000 repatriated with UNHCR assistance before the year ended. Returnees received a two-month food package before departing Central African Republic and were scheduled to receive additional food aid for three months after arriving in Chad.
Most Chadian refugees in Central African Republic lived in a camp at Boubou, near the northwestern town of Bossangoa, about 170 miles (about 270 km) from the capital. Assistance to the refugees ended in 1998. Most supported themselves as cotton farmers.
Asylum Seekers from Rwanda
About 400 Rwandans who arrived in Central African Republic in 1997 continued to seek asylum there. The government's National Commission for Refugees has granted refugee status to about 100 of them. UNHCR speculated, however, that unknown numbers of other Rwandans probably live in Central African Republic without registering with authorities.
The Rwandan asylum seekers fled Rwanda in 1994 and arrived in Central African Republic in 1997 when war drove them out of their first asylum in Congo-Kinshasa. The asylum seekers have attracted controversy because some of them were allegedly linked to the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Refugee screening procedures have failed to separate genuine refugees from other Rwandans in the country.
Government officials have urged UNHCR to seek third-country resettlement for Rwandan refugees and asylum seekers.