Bangui – Following a violent armed robbery on Monday 20 November that threatened the lives of its workers, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has evacuated all 58 national and international staff, and suspended medical operations from Bangassou, a town in southeastern Central African Republic. The town is largely under the control of various armed groups affiliated to the anti-Balaka factions.
“We had the will and the means to stay in those areas. But we cannot put the lives of our staff on the line when our staff and the medical structures where we work are threatened”, says Frederic Lai Manantsoa, MSF’s country director.
In the Bangassou region, half a million people were relying almost entirely on MSF’s services to access healthcare. Following attacks, most health centres in the area not supported by the organisation were left empty, lacking staff and the most basic drugs and medical supplies.
“Today, the 30 children under five who were in intensive care in the Bangassou hospital will not be seen by doctors or nurses. The 26 patients in urgent need of surgery will be left in their beds”, says Frédéric Lai Manantsoa. “The only outside witnesses of what is happening on the ground in the area are UN troops and some missionaries. The Bangassou population has already started leaving the city, including critically ill patients from the hospital.”
“Facing such huge, desperate needs, an international humanitarian organisation like ours should try to remain in the area as long as possible”, Frédéric Lai Manantsoa continues. “Leaving the population utterly abandoned is a painful admission that we are unable to bring humanitarian relief to one of the most severe humanitarian crises in the world today because of attacks on our staff.”
List of attacks and threats made against MSF staff or structures supported by the organisation in the Central African Republic over the past 14 months:
29 September 2016
Patient assaulted during his transfer in an MSF vehicle in Bangui. To protest against this unacceptable aggression, MSF suspended its activities in the entire neighbourhood from 4 to 7 October.
21 December 2016
The leader of an armed group who had brought his wife to Batangafo hospital threatened the emergency and maternity staff so she was given priority and treated according to his instructions. The team worked for an hour while being threatened by the man.
26-27 December 2016
Two armed robberies in the living quarters of international staff in Bambari. MSF suspended its activities for a few days, and then continued operating with reduced activities for two months.
2 January 2017
Armed robbery in the living quarters of international staff in Zemio. Reduction of activities (vital emergencies only) for three weeks.
20 January 2017
Burglary at a health centre supported by MSF in the Batangafo region.
3 February 2017
Three wounded arrived one after the other at Gbaya Ndombia Maternity Clinic (Bangui) following a grenade explosion. A crowd quickly gathered in front of the maternity clinic, men threatened the guards and forced their way inside the structure using weapons to retrieve one of the wounded and attack another patient. The latter managed to lock himself in and stay safe. The armed men then blocked the ambulance’s path in front of the maternity clinic for more an hour. No one was harmed and no damage was reported.
7 February 2017
Second armed intrusion at Gbaya Ndombia Maternity Clinic, while the medical team was managing an influx of 21 wounded, including three dead. During this intrusion, invaders terrorised MSF staff and tried to kill one of the wounded under their care. MSF suspended its activities in PK5 neighborhood of Bangui for several weeks in protest.
18 February 2017
Threats against MSF staff following their refusal to refer a patient for treatment abroad. As a consequence, movement of MSF staff on rural roads were reduced for around two months in Kabo.
17 March 2017
Burglary at MSF-supported Lady health centre (Batangafo).
15 April 2017
The MSF team in Kabo were subjected to a robbery during the night. Most activities in Kabo were suspended for over a month.
3 May 2017
Armed robbery of two MSF trucks along the road between Batangafo and Kaga-Bandoro carried out by two men armed with AK47s and traditional weapons.
10 May 2017
A drunk armed man came to Batangafo hospital for a consultation. He refused to wait his turn and slapped the consultation manager twice.
11 May 2017
Night burglary at Pendé health centre (Paoua).
22 May 2017
Theft at Batangafo hospital.
24 May 2017
Armed men forced their way into Bangassou hospital, abducted a patient and her care attendant, despite the intervention of MSF staff, and killed them both nearby outside of the hospital gates.
25 May 2017
Intrusion into Bangassou hospital of an armed man looking for a patient.
25 June 2017
The emergency team was threatened by armed men and temporarily held captive on their way from Alindao to Datoko for a medical operation.
1 July 2017
Robbery and theft of an MSF car in front of the Bangui coordination office.
9 July 2017
Assault and armed robbery of an MSF convoy on the road between Kaga Bandoro and Dekoa road: shots fired on the lead vehicle.
11 July 2017
Two armed men opened fire at Zemio hospital, killing a baby in its mother’s arms. MSF withdrew its expat and relocated staff, and continued to manage the project from Bangui.
14 July 2017
Robbery of two MSF vehicles on the Moyenne-Sido road.
29 July 2017
Violence in Batangafo, robbery of MSF’s base and looting of other NGOs.
End of July
MSF’s base in Zemio was looted and vandalised.
In Batangafo, armed groups surrounded and regularly came into the hospital, blocking access for people coming to receive treatment or simply visiting patients.
On 10 and 11 August
Shots were fired near the hospital, endangering patients, health staff and civilians who had sought refuge in the hospital. MSF reduced its activities in Batangafo.
17 August 2017
Attack on Zemio hospital. The people there fled and MSF’s stocks were looted.
21 August 2017
An MSF ambulance referring a patient to Bangassou hospital for specialised care was stopped by armed men, who refused to let it continue its journey for over three hours. MSF suspended its activities in Bangassou.
8 September 2017
Civilians seeking refuge at Batangafo hospital were shot at: a 15-year-old and a child died and two other people were wounded.
9 September 2017
“Turbulent” search and control of our patients at Bangui airport during their medical transfer, and direct threats made against our staff.
14 September 2017
Armed men entered and searched Batangafo hospital.
20 September 2017
An MSF guard was beaten after he attempted to stop a quarrel between displaced people who had found refuge at Batangafo hospital.
28 September 2017
An MSF car was stopped by armed men in Bangassou, and the staff were threatened.
End of September 2017
Threats against MSF staff after they refused to refer a patient for treatment abroad. Reduced movement of MSF cars and people on the roads for three weeks around Kabo.
4 October 2017
A casual worker hired by MSF was beaten by armed men in front of the health centre where he was going to work.
23 October 2017
Armed robbery at Batangafo hospital.
11 November 2017
Bangui: a member of staff accompanying a patient referred from the countryside was assaulted at the hospital where he was by the parents of the wounded who arrived following a grenade explosion at a dancing bar of the 5th arrondissement.
12 November 2017
Armed robbery against the team at Zemio. The expat and relocated team was evacuated.
20 November 2017
Armed robbery at MSF’s Bangassou base. The entire team, including international and Central African staff, was evacuated. Activities suspended.
MSF has been working in Central African Republic since 1997 and remains operational in 10 locations across the country. MSF continues to bring medical relief to people living behind the rapidly evolving frontlines that divide the country, including Bria, Bambari, Alindao, Batangafo, Kabo, Bossangoa, Boguila, Paoua, Carnot and Bangui.
In 2016 MSF provided 1 million medical consultations, vaccinated 500,000 children against various diseases, performed 9,000 surgeries and assisted 21,000 births in the country. Since the beginning of 2017 however, as armed conflict intensified in the country, MSF has had to transform 4 out of its 16 medical projects (including Bangassou and Zemio) that previously provided health care for the general population into emergency relief for people directly or indirectly affected by conflict.