The outbreak of violence in Central African Republic (CAR) has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homeland. More than 100,000 of them have sought safety in Cameroon. CARE provides them with access to water and sanitation, as well as psychosocial support. Camille Bargain, emergency officer for CARE France, bears witness to this situation.
What is the scope of the humanitarian emergency?
Today, approximately 120,000 Central Africans have found refuge in Cameroon.
About 15,000 refugees arrive every month. These numbers are significantly high and indicate the instability in CAR. They also demonstrate the extent of the emergency action required to help these people.
15,000 refugees, this is equivalent to the population of a Cameroonian provincial town. The humanitarian situation of refugees today is tragic. Every month, their needs are increasing against a background of general indifference. Our teams are concerned because lack of funding limits our response capacity. This is why it is crucial that both the international community and the public act fast.
What is the situation of Central African refugees in Cameroon today?
Most of the refugees lost everything when they fled. They need emergency assistance urgently. Families often do not have access to drinking water. Many do not have food. In the various refugee camps, many children have already died of malnutrition. It is traumatizing for parents to see their children die of hunger without being able to save them.
CARE was the first NGO to provide help to the 1,600 refugees of the informal Kette camp. Our teams have distributed food (rice, beans, sugar, vegetable oil, salt), soap, buckets, kettles and mattresses.
Refugees also need shelters and medical care. Today, many are still sleeping on the floor and do not have access to latrines. The instability of their living conditions makes refugees very vulnerable to disease. This is the reason that CARE runs programs focusing on access to water and sanitation in the refugee camp of Timangolo, home to 4,500 refugees, a number that will increase to 10,000 by the end of August.
We fix wells and we build boreholes, latrines and showers. We also remind children of basic hygiene rules – how to wash hands – and women of the importance of using clean water for cooking.
How do refugees cope with this situation?
The refugees are traumatized by the violence they've witnessed and the conditions of their forced exile. They are also concerned for the members of their families that remain in CAR or that got lost during the months of the walk. Many refugees have difficulties sleeping; they wake from violent nightmares and have lost faith in the future.
The situation is especially difficult for children that have been separated from their families. Our teams met young orphans who refused to eat and continually demanded to see their parents.
Men find it hard to accept that they are no longer able to meet the needs of their families. Forced inactivity and loss of their livestock are the cause of severe depression. Women undertake daily tasks (doing the laundry, cooking, taking care of children) but they suffer from significant traumas as well. One of them told us that she lost her 7 children during her flight. Some of these women saw their husbands or children being killed. They isolate themselves and cry.
These people have lived through traumatic events and there is an urgent need to help them so that they can regain some sense of stability despite the insecurity of their living conditions.
Thanks to funding from UNHCR, CARE has implemented psychosocial support projects in the refugee camps of Lolo, Mbile and Timangolo, that currently host around 23,500 refugees.
How does the host community react?
The situation for the host community is also difficult because the resources are very scarce and the influx of refugees put them under pressure. To reduce the tensions between the host community and the refugees, CARE works in Cameroonian villages around the refugee camps. Our team carries water and sanitation programs out. We also will help the host community and the refugees to develop income-generating activities.
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