BANGUI/ NEW YORK, AUGUST 9, 2017—Approximately 10,000 people have taken shelter on the grounds of Batangafo hospital in Central African Republic (CAR), more than 10 days after violence broke out between rival groups, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Thursday.
With clashes taking place between members of the former Seleka coalition and so called self-defense groups, the town of Batangafo in the country’s north has once again plunged into chaos. This latest wave of violence resulted in at least 24 dead and 17 wounded in fighting on July 29 and August 1. A large part of the city’s camp for displaced people was looted and burned, forcing people to seek shelter elsewhere. Facilities for several aid organizations, including MSF, have been robbed.
“The people taking refuge in the hospital, and in other locations around Batangafo, are still unable to rebuild their shelters in the camp from which they were forced to flee,” said MSF project coordinator Carlos Francisco. “As an immediate way to respond to the needs, we are strengthening the water supply system on the hospital grounds as well as providing latrines and improving hygiene. But people must be allowed to rebuild their homes as soon as possible and return to the camp safely.”
Most people sheltering in Batangafo hospital leave the grounds during the day and return to sleep there at night. But in CAR, not even hospitals are places of safety. In recent weeks, armed groups have forcibly entered hospitals in both Bangassou and Zemio. In incidents condemned by MSF, armed men in Bangassou kidnapped two patients, who were later found dead. In Zemio, armed men shot and killed a child in its mother’s arms last month.
“Much of the general population is in a state of complete helplessness,” said Francisco. “Imagine what the situation must be like when people think that the only safe option left to them is a hospital, knowing that not even hospitals are safe.”
Hospital services were interrupted by the recent fighting, with general consultations being put on hold and extra support provided to the emergency room, but have since been re-established. Some of the wounded were treated in Batangafo hospital and included combatants from both groups, said MSF. The atmosphere in Batangafo remains tense, despite the fact that the leaders of the rival groups claim to have reached an agreement to prevent a resurgence in the conflict.
Since last November, the conflict in CAR—which started in 2013—has worsened. In recent months, more than 180,000 people have fled their homes. Approximately twenty percent of the population is displaced—400,000 have been displaced inside CAR and 500,000 have fled to neighboring countries, out of a total estimated population of just over 4.5 million people.
MSF has worked in CAR since 1996 and currently has more than 2,400 Central African staff and 230 international staff working in the country. Since 2013, MSF has doubled its level of medical support in response to the crisis. At present, MSF runs some 20 projects across the country, with medical teams providing free healthcare, including pediatric care, routine vaccinations, maternal healthcare, and surgery, as well as treatment for diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis.