Central African Republic: Thousands of South Sudanese refugees living in deplorable conditions

Approximately 4,000 refugees who fled violence in South Sudan in December 2015 are living in deplorable conditions in Bambouti, a remote village of 1,000 inhabitants in the southeastern part of the Central African Republic (CAR). Most of them live in tiny make-shift dwellings made out of palm leaves that don’t offer any protection from the elements.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams recently brought lifesaving medical assistance to the refugees, who have been completely cut off from any assistance for several months, including access to health care and clean water.

Refugees explained how  they ran away from their villages in South Sudan after being harassed by armed men. Many of them lost track of relatives during the exodus.

Atenina Koubaka, 38, ran away from Source Youbu, South Sudan last November and she finally made it to Bambouti with her three children and her husband after travelling for months. “Our main problems here are lack of food, water and medicines,” she said. “We will not leave until the conflict stops,” she added.

Some families lost members due to the harsh conditions in which they live. A few weeks after arriving in Bambouti, Martine Barifue, 28, lost her husband to an illness that could not be treated. She now works in the orchard of a local family to get some food, mostly rice and cassava, to feed her only son.

During a five-day intervention at the end of April, MSF’s emergency team carried out preventative activities to increase the immunization of children and pregnant women against epidemic diseases. In all 449 children between six weeks and five years old received pneumococcal and pentavalent vaccinations, a combination of five vaccines in one. A further 589 children between six months and ten years old were vaccinated against measles, and pregnant women received tetanus vaccinations.

The intervention targeted both the refugees and the Central African population in Bambouti, which has been without access to health care for several years.

Bringing humanitarian assistance to Bambouti, which is located in a remote, inaccessible part of the Central African Republic, is extremely difficult. Several armed groups operate in the area and the developing situation is unpredictable.

“The logistical challenges for our emergency team have been enormous,” says Maria Simon, MSF's general coordinator in CAR. “With help from the local population we managed to rehabilitate the local landing strip which had not been operational for several years, to make sure our team and medical supplies arrive safely.”

Since March, MSF has supported the re-opening of the local health centre through the donation of medicines and the training of local health workers. More than half of the consultations at the centre are related to malaria. “We are expecting to see an increase in malaria cases as the rainy season starts soon, and the refugees don’t have proper shelter or mosquito nets,” says MSF emergency coordinator Juan Rodilla. Many patients also suffer from respiratory infections and diarrhea.  

MSF healthcare workers have stayed behind to prepare for the upcoming peak malaria season and will continue to monitor the situation in Bambouti. The organisation has made every effort to address the extreme vulnerability of the population and urges other organizations to use all possible means to provide much-needed humanitarian assistance.

MSF has been working in the Central African Republic since 1997, and currently has more than 2,000 locally hired staff and over 300 international staff in the country. Since December 2013, MSF has doubled its level of medical care in response to the crisis, with the number of projects increasing from 10 to 21, and has also carried out six interventions for Central African refugees in neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.