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Central African Republic: "In front of a Catholic church, Muslims are kneeling to pray" - our patients speak
In front of a Catholic church, Muslims are kneeling to pray. Behind them are the guns and uniforms of African Union soldiers sent to protect the supplicants at this church-cum-refugee camp in Carnot, western Central African Republic (CAR).
Inside the church compound, nearly 1,000 people of different ethnicities – but all Muslim – are crammed in to an area the size of half a football field and living in extremely precarious conditions.
"It’s been really harsh here"
Stepsisters S and Z are both 20 years old.
“On 5th February, the Anti-Balakas attacked Guen, our village. There were a hundred of us grouped in a big house. They separated the men and boys, 45 people in total including our husbands, and executed them in front of us,” Z said.
“Then they mutilated the corpses,” she said, pointing to her ears.
S continues: “The Cameroonian soldiers brought us to Carnot Church. It’s been really harsh here. My baby died from an infection. He was one month old.”
"They attacked me with machetes"
More than 90 percent of the western Central African Republic’s Muslim inhabitants have fled violence in the past few months. Armed international forces are protecting the last few Muslim enclaves.
Moving away from the enclave is dangerous. When D heard that a nine carat stone had been unearthed at the diamond mine that he normally manages, he left.
“I went to collect my share. Anti-balakas attacked me with machetes less than 500 meters from the church,” he said.
D was treated by MSF and now hopes to find a way to join his family in Cameroon.
Outside the church compound, the rest of the city is controlled by Anti-Balakas – mainly Christian self-defence militias that took Carnot in early February, following the resignation of the President Michel Djotodia
Djotodia had gained power in a March 2013 coup led by the Seleka, an alliance of rebel Muslim groups.
The vast majority of the Muslim communities left following the Seleka retreat because of atrocious reprisals, whether they were migrant workers, nomadic pastoralists or CAR citizens.
Many have not survived. The exact toll is difficult to establish but it is believed there were several thousand victims.
Medical help in CAR
MSF has been supporting Carnot Hospital since 2010. Today it is the only place where it is possible for Christians and Muslims to stay together.
But the killing of 18 people in an MSF hospital in Boguila on 26th April remains a tragic reminder that medical facilities are not being spared by the violence.
Overpopulation has also become a public health issue within the walls of the church. Half of the displaced are children under 15 years. The rainy season has started and diseases like malaria and diarrhoea are rampant.
“We provide medical care, food and drinking water and we built latrines but it is a daily challenge to maintain minimum sanitary conditions in such a situation,” said Fabio Biolchini, head of MSF activities on site. “Another solution must be found quickly.”
"Our only option now is to go and wait for peace”
The camps inhabitants settle on mats inside the church. On Sunday, they vacate the space for the mass.
“We hear insults and threats every time,” said a community representative who has resigned himself to leaving soon for Cameroon, where more than 100,000 refugees have already fled.
“The hate is still too strong for reconciliation. Our children are sick and our women are afraid. Ramadan is approaching and nobody wants to celebrate in such conditions. Our only option now is to go and wait for peace.”