Population flees to bushes under fear of attacks in several towns in Central African Republic

MSF maintains its hospital services and runs emergency operations

On Thursday 20 December, the rebel coalition ‘Seleka’, that has attacked several locations in the north of Central African Republic (CAR) in the last days, entered the town of Batangafo, where MSF is supporting the main hospital.

The previous day, after the announcement of the rebels on their intention to move towards Bouca, through the town of Batangafo, all FACA (Central African military forces), as well as gendarmerie and public authorities fled the town in a few hours. An important part of the population, scared by the threat of an attack, also left Batangafo to seek refuge into the bush. The rebels entered and took position into the town 24 hours later.

MSF maintains its team on the ground and is continuing its activities at the hospital. The number of consultations has dropped from 193 the day before the rebels’ advances, to 38 on the next day, when they entered the town.

Testimonies collected by the team of MSF in Batangafo a few hours before rebels entered the town, illustrate the sense of fear that haunts a population suffering the effects of more than 10 years of armed conflicts. They are accustomed to flee to the bush as the only way of escaping violence: “I am very worried by the situation. Yesterday the kids at school fled in the bush when they heard that armed troops were arriving in town. We did not know where they were. We are so scared”, said Ghislaine, a woman of 55 years old.

According to Enoch Nodl-ya, an MSF anesthetist nurse at Batangafo hospital, “for the last ten years the population has endured the regular presence and attacks from armed men in this region. People are scared and flee rapidly into the bush. As a consequence, many women give birth in the fields without any assistance and most sick or wounded are hesitant to receive medical assistance, scared of possible violence in the populated areas. When the violence stops, we often see patients coming in an advance stage of their diseases.”

In the early morning of 19 December, the rebel coalition entered the town of Kabo, in north-central Central African Republic where MSF is also supporting the hospital. Shootings and heavy explosions went on for about two hours. After taking the town and the departure of the FACA (Central African military forces), the rebel troops eventually left Kabo the same day. Some violence against the civilian population, including one rape and significant looting occurred. Population originally fled the town hiding in the surrounding bush but is timidly returning to town. MSF is still running its services at the hospital of Kabo and already took care of four wounded and provided medical and psychological attention to the patient who suffered sexual violence.

On the other hand, after the attack of the rebels on Bria (center-eastern CAR), on 16 December, MSF is planning to send a team soon (by next week) to rapidly provide medical assistance to the population in the area.

At the same time, the threat of an attack on Kaga Bandoro led MSF to set up an emergency team to support the surgery services at the Préfectoral Hospital in case of fighting. The team, composed of one surgeon, two nurses, a field coordinator and one logistician, arrived in Kaga Bandoro on 19 December, and are now ready to start their activities if needed.

Since December 10th, after the take- over of the town of Ndélé, other areas in the northern part of the Central African Republic (CAR) have been attacked by the coalition of various rebel groups, leading to some heavy fighting with the National Security Forces (FACA), now supported by the Chadian Army that have entered the country on request of the president of CAR in order to stop these rebel movements. The population has fled towns, abandoning houses, stocks and livelihoods activities, in order to seek refuge in the bush. Most of the qualified health personnel have fled to Bangui, leaving the population in an even more precarious health situation.

After the fighting between the rebels and the FACA in Ndélé on 10 December, the situation in that town has calmed down. However, the conditions are precarious and the population has not returned, still hiding in the fields at night. MSF, who initially evacuated part of its staff, has now come back to Ndélé with the full team again and is continuing its activities at the hospital. A mobile clinic has also been immediately set up in assistance of the people (around 128 families) displaced at the airstrip, not far from town. So far more than 300 consultations have been done through the mobile clinic, while attendance at the hospital is still low, due to the heavy presence of weapon bearers in town.

Given the multiplicity of actors involved and the rapid developments, MSF will continuously monitor the situation in order to identify and respond to the immediate health and humanitarian needs of the population.

MSF is running 3 regular projects in Ndélé, Kabo and Batangafo, all of them affected by this conflict, and is currently setting up 2 emergency teams to respond to the increased needs of the civilian population.

MSF is present in CAR since 1997 and works in 7 different projects in 5 of the 7 health districts.  It supports 7 hospitals and about 38 health posts in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. MSF activities in CAR cover a very wide range of services from primary and secondary health, to neglected diseases, nutrition and surgery. Malaria is often the main focus of the projects, being the highest morbidity. Vaccination, sleeping sickness, HIV and TB, and nutrition are also main features of MSF work in CAR.