Saturday, May 24, 2014

Africa: Central African children fleeing to Cameroon on ‘journey of starvation, death’

Malnourished children from Central African Republic at feeding time with their mothers in Batouri Hospital, Cameroon. Photo: UNHCR/F. Noy 

UN - 23 May 2014 – Nearly 30 children – the youngest a baby – died in the past month fleeing violence in the Central African Republic (CAR), the United Nations refugee agency today confirmed, renewing its appeal for $22 million in urgently-needed funds to help the growing number of people taking “a journey of starvation and death” in search of safety in Cameroon.

“Since mid-April, the rate of deaths among refugee children has been particularly high,” Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the agency (UNHCR) said in Geneva. Between 14 April and 18 May, at least 29 children died, most of them at therapeutic feeding centres, which they reached gravely ill.

“Dehydration, hypothermia and severe anaemia had been the main causes of death,” said Mr. Edwards.

Acute malnutrition rates are up for the groups arriving in Cameroon. According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), 25 per cent are malnourished, as compared with a global emergency threshold of 15 per cent. UNHCR added that in the worst-affected area of Gbiti, about 400 kilometers east of Yaoundé, the severe malnutrition rates among new arrivals is close to 40 per cent.

Since early December, refugees from CAR have been arriving in Cameroon, many of them after having walked for weeks through the treacherous bush. At present there are at least 85,000 refugees in some 300 villages.

WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs said the situation of refugees and third country nationals in Cameroon was “dramatic” and living conditions in camps were likely to deteriorate with the onset of the rainy season.

Arrivals apparently decreased last month after anti-Balaka militias, who had attacked refugees along the way, blocked the main roads leading to Cameroon.

Mr. Edwards said “the journey people were making from CAR is a journey of starvation and death.”

A number of people were severely wounded, he added. Some with knife cuts, gunshot wounds, and people arriving in an extremely poor physical shape, often a result of having lived in bushes for weeks.

The UNHCR has requested $22.6 million for its programmes, of which only $4.2 million have so far been received. In addition, the Regional Refugee Response Plan for CAR, which includes UNHCR and 14 partners in Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo, is only 12 per cent funded at present.

Meanwhile, an eight-month emergency feeding operation in Cameroon at $15.6 million has so far not received any contributions, according to WFP.

Fighting in CAR has taken on an increasingly sectarian nature following a 2012 rebel-led coup and has since become more brutal with reports of ongoing human rights violations and clashes that have left 2.2 million in need of humanitarian aid.

Babacar Gaye, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in CAR, had called on the anti-Balaka militia to lay down their arms, and on the opposition, former Séléka fighters, to enter the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process.

Support from the international community would be in vain if the parties did not act responsibly for the long-term stability of the country, a UN spokesperson said on his behalf.