CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Refugees stranded in Sudanese town

Friday, February 9, 2007
Since fleeing his home in northern Central African Republic (CAR) on 3 December 2006, Abdoulay Douga Mandja Noel, 40, has lived rough in a border town called Am-Dafock shared by the CAR and Sudan.

Abdoulay fled months of fighting between the army and a rebel coalition, the Union des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement (UFDR), which is seeking inclusion in the government of President François Bozize, whom they accuse of sidelining them.

"We were living under permanent threats from both rebels and the national army," Abdoulay told IRIN. "I left my home for security reasons but I think the time has come to go back."

His home was in the northern town of Sam-Ouandja, one of five captured by the UFDR in November, which has since been taken back by the army.

Abdoulay helped set up the Am-Dafock Refugee Association in December, of which he is chairman. He said most of the refugees had found shelter in a public school made available by Sudanese authorities in Am-Dafock.

Refugees on the Sudanese side of Am-Dafock are eager to return home and are waiting for the CAR government to organize their repatriation but they are still waiting for relief aid.

The plight of the refugees in Am-Dafock failed to catch the attention of aid organizations in the country for many reasons: no United Nations development project has been undertaken in the region for the past three decades and no UN agency operates there. Moreover, the prefecture of Vakaga, which bore the brunt of the rebellion, is not accessible by land during the rainy season, further isolating the region in the past three months.

From Am-Dafock, Abdoulay said: "I am really stranded here and I wish I had free transport to return home."

He claimed rebels had molested people in the CAR town of Sam-Ouandja and that the army was killing innocent civilians accused of supporting the rebels. He added that people of his Goula ethnic group were the target of other communities who accused them of fomenting the rebellion.

Abdoulay said at least 4,000 CAR civilians had sought shelter in Sudan. "Some of us have gone beyond the Sudanese town of Nyala to seek refuge," he said. Nyala is 80km east of the CAR-Sudan border.

He added that Sudanese authorities had registered only 877 refugees. "Many of our fellow refugees refused to be registered to avoid compulsory repatriation by the government of Sudan," he added.

He said some of the refugees had to work in private farms or rely on fishing to survive.

Like Abdoulay, Ashta Amine, 32, longs to return home to Birao, capital of the northern Vakaga Province, which bore the brunt of the UFDR rebellion.

"Home is a better place to live in and I am ready to go back if the government arranges our repatriation," she said.

"My property was stolen by rebels and neighbours in Birao and I am now in Am-Dafock surviving on charity," she said. "I have no clothes, no cooking pot or bed to sleep on when I go back but I’d rather be at home."

The fighting between the army and UFDR broke out in early November 2006 after the rebels captured five towns. Although the situation in the north of CAR is calm, the threat of violence still worries most civilians as those living in the towns that had previously been seized by the rebels say the army did not have a permanent presence in the area, and the UFDR could try to retake the towns.

According to November 2006 proceedings of the CAR National Assembly, at least 12,000 CAR residents fled to Sudan after the fighting. Abdoulay confirmed this figure.

However, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in the CAR has indicated it did not have details about the numbers of refugees in Sudan. Speaking from the capital, Bangui, Gogo Hukportie, programme officer at the UNHCR, said the agency would investigate the issue.

The interim police commissioner of Am-Dafock, Pierre Edouard Tamboula, said on 24 January: "Nearly 900 people fleeing violence have been registered on the CAR side of the town."

However, Tamboula said most of the people on the CAR side of Am-Dafock had returned home.

"I don't have the exact number of people hiding on the other side of the border and there are allegations that they are there in large number," he added.
Author: IRIN
Source: IRIN
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