A man and a child walk through a camp for internally displaced people in Bangui, Central African Republic, where escalating violence is making it difficult for humanitarian groups to operate in the country. Photo by: S. Phelps / UNHCR

The aid community in the Central African Republic continues to deal with insufficient funds and an increasingly violent space for humanitarians — both of which are already putting a huge strain on their aid delivery efforts.

But that's not all.

As more and more people flee their homes for safety, particularly Muslims targeted by anti-Balaka forces, aid workers are caught between helping facilitate civilians' request to leave the country and ensuring their neutrality.

"[Humanitarians] are now facing the difficult dilemma of either responding positively to their requests to leave, and thereby appearing to contribute to changing the demography of communities, or not facilitating their exit and leaving them at risk of being killed," U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said in her speech before the U.N. Security Council last week.

The refugee crisis in the country has been a cause of concern in recent months. Close to 300,000 people have fled to neighboring Cameroon, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo, apart from the more than 650,000 internally displaced people across the CAR itself. Many of them are Muslims and remain "under permanent threat" amid a massive ethnic-religious cleansing, according to U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

Many of them are trapped in their villages, UNHCR spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba told Devex.

“They are asking us to help them leave the place. So in January, we had an operation whereby UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies worked together to get a group of people outside of their villages and took them to the capital Bangui. But we received mixed reactions, because some people felt we were helping with the ethnic cleansing or religious cleansing,” she said. “It's silly because we're not trying to get villages get rid of Muslims. We see people in danger of being killed, if nothing is done … We're just saving lives. Anyway possible that we can.”

Many iNGos have already raised the alarm on the violence against civilians, aid workers and humanitarian space inside the country. International medical group Medecins Sans Frontieres has spoken about repeated attacks by armed groups on its facilities, and how this has forced the group to reduce some its medical activities in certain parts of the CAR.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported aid groups suspending or recalling most of their staff members in Ndele, Bamingui-Bangoran and Bocaranga, Ouham-Pende due to insecurity. A staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross was killed over the weekend in Ndele, although it's unclear whether that will also the organization to paralyze operations.

All this is on top of a gravely underfunded U.N. humanitarian appeal of $547.42 million for CAR this year. Amos, who recently visited the country, underlined the importance of sending in a U.N.-led peacekeeping force to protect civilians and stabilize the country — a proposal supported by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon but not yet approved by the Security Council.

See more:

A race against time in the CAR

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

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