Central African Republic: the struggle to find missing family amid increased insecurity

Published: 19 January 2016 8:52 CET

Gerald Bikombi, Central African Red Cross, and Nelly Muluka, IFRC

Persistent violence in the Central African Republic has separated families, leaving many anxious about the future. Increased insecurity and poor road networks remain a big challenge for those who wish to look for their loved ones.

Monique, 80, a widow and mother of five lives in Kembe in the southern part of the country, a town that was destroyed at the onset of the violence two years ago. To date, no form of reconstruction has taken place.

“The violence caught us unaware. All my children fled. I have heard that they are in Bangui, but I do not know where Bangui is, nor do I have any means of getting there,” says Monique. “If I did somehow make it there, I wouldn’t even know where to start looking for them.” The elderly woman adds that all she hears are rumours and stories of fighting, war, and deaths in Bangui, a city far away.

A visit by Central African Red Cross personnel conducting a needs assessment survey revealed that Kembe has been deserted by both youth and men, leaving behind women, the elderly, the physically challenged, and children, many of whom can hardly take care of themselves. To make matters worse, the town does not have telephone network coverage and accessibility is extremely difficult.

“The habitants of this area are cut off and in dire need of humanitarian aid in all sectors, especially food, non-food items, and clean water,” says Jean Walegue, programme coordinator, Central African Red Cross.

Dossade, 78, resides in a displaced person’s (IDP) camp in Bangui, hundreds of kilometres away from Kembe, but shares Monique’s concerns. She does not know what happened to her family whom she suspects fled to a neighbouring country.

“I have not seen or heard from them since December 2013. I am old and sick. I live under a roof top of an old airplane. Life in this camp is a struggle for the fittest. Everything is a problem – food, water, toilet, everything,” says Dossade, adding that the camp has received new IDPs since September, putting further pressure on the scarce available resources.

Monique and Dossade’s worries ring true for many families whose loved ones have crossed borders, fleeing persistent violence in the Central African Republic. A surge of fresh violence in the capital in  September has led to new displacements and destruction of livelihoods, worsening an already bad situation. Close to 500,000 people remain internally displaced; another 454,000 are refugees in neighbouring countries.

When security allows, the Central African Red Cross, in collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and other partners, continues to assist affected families through first aid, water, sanitation and hygiene activities, distribution of non-food items and small ruminants, and health promotion. An Emergency Appeal of 10.5 million Swiss francs is currently 18 per cent funded.