Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
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ICC Note: The Séléka Islamists have driven thousands of Christians from their homes in a religious cleansing campaign, which has often been ignored or mischaracterized  in Western media. The Catholic diocese in Bossangoa has become a refuge of sorts for those fleeing this persecution. But their mounting numbers, which are increasing every day as the fighting goes unchecked, challenge the aid organizations which are working to provide food and care to the masses huddled amongst the meager grounds of this venerated house of worship.
10/28/2013 Central African Republic (AllAfrica) – Sitting on an old stool in the shade of a tree, Mary calls out to UNHCR staff talking to her neighbours and complains about the living conditions in her new home.
“I want to be with my family in the new space you arranged,” said the 40-year-old, who has been living in two tents with her husband and eight young children since fleeing her village last August and arriving in the town of Bossangoa, which is located in Central African Republic some 400 kilometres north-west of the capital, Bangui.
“There is no privacy here, and when our neighbour cooks we get all their smoke in our tent,” added Mary in the grounds of Bossangoa’s Roman Catholic church, which has acted like a magnet for some 37,000 people forced to flee fighting in the past two months between self-defence groups in the north and west of the country.
There is a reek of humanity in the settlement, where sanitation and hygiene are big concerns. The displaced are living in dire conditions, but UNHCR and its neighbours are rushing to try and improve the situation there. The refugee agency has this week sent an expert of emergency shelter and a site planning officer to Bossangoa.
They are urgently needed. Although the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) ha supplied tents and plastic sheeting, people are crammed together in a tiny area, which poses a hazard to health and to the safety of people, especially women. Some people have brought along livestock, including goats and pigs. The World Food Programme distributed food earlier this month to people at the church, a hospital and school.
“These 37,000 displaced people are camping in an area of only five hectares,” said Maurice Azonnankpo, a UNHCR protection officer in Bangui, while adding that this was 1.2 square metres per person against the recommended 4.5 square metres.
And they are likely to stay there for a while, as the situation remains tense and unstable in the area. In coordination with the local authorities, UNHCR has funded the construction of an extension to the church so that more people can stay there. The internally displaced say they feel safer on the grounds of the church and less liable to attack.