A humanitarian crisis is looming in the Central African Republic, as tens of thousands of people have sought refuge in makeshift camps around the capital of Bangui, following waves of sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians.
Aid workers say only a fraction of Bangui’s estimated 800,000 residents remained in the city, with many of the homeless taking shelter near a French military base and in other areas considered more safe, according to the AFP news agency.
The focus is shifting to conditions in the makeshift camps, with humanitarian workers raising fears of cholera and other diseases spreading.
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Aid groups said more than 40,000 people had sheltered around the city’s international airport, where French soldiers have maintained a base since 2002, AFP reported.
Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from Bangui’s international airport outside the city centre, defined the situation at the makeshift camp there as “terrible”.
“There are more than 40,000 thousand people who have been forced to take shelter here around African amnd French soldiers because they do not feel safe enough to go home,” she reported.
She said that they protected themselves from the hot weather under old abondened airplanes as they did not even have tents. “They do not have enough water and food either,” she said.
“The Doctors Without Borders and the World Food Programme have been here giving assistance but it is not enough,” Moshiri said, adding: “Aid agencies do not feel safe enough to come here at the moment.”
Meanwhile, the United States has begun airlifting troops from Burundi to CAR to help those already deployed to secure the country.
The Burundian troops are due to join the peacekeeping forces who have struggled to contain the sectarian violence that, according to aid officials, has killed more than 500 people in the past week.
“The first US aircraft to transport the Burundian contingent to Bangui arrived this morning [in CAR],” said Lieutenant-Colonel Potien Hakizimana, commander of the 850-strong Burundi battalion going to CAR, on Thursday.
Burundi army spokesman Gaspard Baratuza said two US transport airplanes will carry the full contingent to CAR’s capital Bangui over the next four days.
France also recently deployed more than 1,600 troops in the country to act with African 2,600-strong Union-led peacekeeping.
The forces on the ground are trying to disarm militias awash in automatic weapons in cities and towns, where would-be fighters are tough to distinguish from civilians. Two French soldiers were killed earlier in the week while carrying out operations against militias in the capital, Bangui.
Earlier this week, Francois Hollande, the French president, said that France’s intervention in CAR was dangerous but “necessary” to avoid a bloodbath on this visit to CAR on Tuesday.
The fighting in the former French colony is between the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels – originally from neighbouring Chad and Sudan – and the Christian anti-Balaka whose name means “anti-machete”, the weapon of choice for Seleka.
The Christian fighters oppose the Muslim ex-rebels in charge of the CAR since March.
Michel Djotodia, rebel leader-turned interim president, has largely lost control of his loose band of fighters, who ended up being disbanded.