Refugee Numbers Soar as CAR Election-Related Violence Intensifies

The U.N. refugee agency is calling for an immediate stop to election-related violence in the Central African Republic that has sent tens of thousands of refugees fleeing to neighboring countries.

Presidential and parliamentary elections in the Central African Republic on December 27 were meant to advance the peace process and unify the country's warring factions. They have instead had the opposite effect.

U.N. refugee agency spokesman Boris Cheshirkov says the situation has evolved for the worse as fighting among various armed groups has escalated, increasing instability in the country.

"We have seen that the number of refugees and displaced and are moving across borders into neighboring countries has doubled in just one week," he said. "We were reporting 30,000 refugees last Friday. Today it is already 60,000, and much of that is the increase we have seen in the DRC."

Cheshirkov says most of the refugees, more than 50,000, have fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo across the Ubangui River. He says some 58,000 people remain displaced inside the C.A.R. and nearly 9,000 refugees have sought asylum in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and the Republic of Congo.

He says the largest exodus occurred in a single day on January 13 when 10,000 refugees arrived in the DRC. That, he says, coincided with reports of intensified violence in the C.A.R., forcing people from their homes.

"What we are hearing from those that are coming in is that some of them have been separated from loved ones, some of them have had loved ones killed. That the attacks have intensified and that they have seen some advancements by armed groups. That a number of people have reported sexual violence," Cheshirkov said.

The UNHCR also has received reports of voters being harassed and physically attacked and of pillaging taking place. Cheshirkov says essential needs are mounting as more refugees flee the chaos in the C.A.R.

He says the UNHCR and partners are scaling up aid for the new arrivals, but there are limits to what they can do. He says only 30 percent of the $151 million appeal launched in November has been received, and aid agencies will run out of cash without urgent international support.

Source: Voice of America