CAR: Displaced Muslims Struggle To Keep Going In Northern Town

Before the crisis, more than 8,000 Muslims lived in the town of Bossangoa, in the northwest of the Central African Republic. There are now less than a thousand. Since January they have been relying on humanitarian assistance to survive, counting the days between one distribution and the next.

By Melissa Chemam

BOSSANGOA, Central African Republic -- Scared and frequently traumatized by their experiences, most of Bossangoa's remaining Muslim community want to escape the violence in their own country and find refuge in Chad or Cameroon.

“Of my 15 family members, ten have managed to leave for Chad. They were evacuated in January,” says mother-of-three Aishatou, explaining that she had to stay behind with her three daughters and her grand-daughter Samzam as there was not enough room in the convoy.

Before the violence broke out, her family had its own house in a normal neighbourhood. But they have been living at a Bossangoa school, the Ecole Liberté, with many other Muslims since September. It is the only place in Bossangoa where Muslims have been able to take refuge since the beginning of the crisis.

Aishatou still hopes to take her daughters and granddaughter to Chad, or at least to CAR's northern border -- the only place in the country she thinks she would be safe. They hope to “come back some day” and live again in their own home in Bossangoa.

A man and three small children sitting on top of WFP bags of food and suppliesSurviving on food aid

Since their arrival at the school, the family has been able to survive with the support of the World Food Programme. “We have received a bag of rice, some maize flour, oil, sugar and even some soap,” says Aishatou’s daughter Habiba, looking at her own daughter playing with other kids in the school yard. Donate here

Before the crisis deteriorated, Bossangoa's Muslim community lived in peace with the rest of the population. Most of them were traders at the local markets. Originally from Chad, many were married with local women.

Abbot Dieudonne Yanfeibona, who works with WFP at the main food distribution site in Bossangoa, recalls how the violence started in September after the Muslim Seleka militia attacked the town.

Then, in December, “anti-balaka” groups started attacking the Muslim communities in retaliation. “We have never been through such a crisis before,” he says, “with so many direct attacks against civilians”.

The Abbot is still worried about the few hundred Muslims left at the school. “It will take time for the local Christians to forgive, and some of the anti-balakas want me to push the retaliation further”. Every day, he sees attacks against Muslim women. In fact, they need to be escorted by the African-led force MISCA to go to the local markets.  

Houses looted

The mosque was set on fire two months ago and its imam, Ismail Nafi, is living at the school camp too, along with his deputy Mahamat Adjaro and secretary Hamid Mango. “All our houses have been looted or destroyed,” he explains. The small market where Muslims used to sell vegetables and meat was also destroyed.

“WFP has been the only resource for our community,” the imam adds. “But it won’t be enough as trade has been very much affected and livestock slaughtered”.

The crisis is far from over. Most Muslims want to flee Bossangoa, but some are still arriving. Among the new arrivals are Hamad and his children. The children’s mother is not there because she was murdered by anti-balakas in February while they were living in Bangui.

After that, they fled the capital and came to Bossangoa, where the remaining Muslims helped them, sharing some of their food supplies with them.

WFP continues food distributions to all displaced people in CAR in need of assistance. Since January, around 250, 000 people have received food assistance in the country each month, including the Muslim people of Bossangoa.