Central African Republic: Violent attacks against MSF threaten the supply of humanitarian assistance

Attacks and extortion against providers of humanitarian assistance are on the rise.

Bangui/Paris - On 7 November a truck carrying medical supplies and that was clearly identified as working for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was stopped and the crew was held captive by an armed group on the route linking Paoua in the north to the capital Bangui, between the towns of Yaloké and Bossembélé. A sum of money was demanded for the vehicle and its crew to be freed. Twenty four hours later, on the same road, a second MSF truck was held up by the same armed group. The team leader was taken away and forced to negotiate a payment. The vehicle was from the Catholic mission in Bossembélé.

“These two events are extremely serious. On each occasion, the attackers proved to be highly aggressive, insulting, threatening, pointing their guns at our staff members and  shooting in the air. In both cases teams were detained and this resulted in the extortion of cash. Fortunately, no one was injured, but these types of attacks and threats against humanitarian aid workers are unacceptable,” said Delphine Chedorge, MSF’s Head of Mission in the Central African Republic (CAR). “These events are indeed proof that, despite the optimism primarily expressed by international forces, the situation in CAR is far from peaceful. Insecurity still represents a major roadblock to the provision of aid in this crisis-rocked country, where the humanitarian needs are enormous.”

Difficulties in supplying the 15 or so projects MSF runs in the provinces, coupled with the intense danger that teams are exposed to, could force us to cut back assistance upon which hundreds of thousands of people depend – assistance that is vital to those living in areas where we are the only medical player.

These recent events are part of an increase in the number of attacks and attempts at extortion carried out against humanitarian aid workers over the last several months, especially since October. Despite repeated contacts with the authorities, international forces and local armed groups, the guarantees of security given by them are not actually being followed up by actions.

“The current government remains silent. Impunity is widespread. MINUSCA is a failure when it comes to protecting ordinary citizens. Sangaris and EUFOR are unable to secure the country or the main highways. Like the population of CAR, the NGOs, victims of this security void, are easy targets for the violence and greed of armed groups who no one claims to control,” declared Laurent Sury in Paris, who manages MSF’s programmes in CAR.

MSF’s involvement in CAR began in 1997, and in 2013, we doubled the number of projects we run in order to respond to the crisis that exists in that country.