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'Abandoned' people in Central African Republic, Chad need aid: UNICEF ambassador

27 February 2007 Humanitarian assistance is crucial to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of “utterly neglected” and “desperate” people affected by conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad, actress and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Mia Farrow said today, upon returning from a visit to the area.

“I don’t see how this extremely fragile and completely abandoned population can possibly survive” without a rapid injection of international aid, Ms. Farrow told reporters at a press briefing at UN Headquarters. “The enormity of the humanitarian situation and the fact that it has scarcely been addressed…is incomprehensible to me.”

Ms. Farrow recalled, in vivid detail, an encounter while on the road in northwest CAR. After seeing “burnt village after burnt village after burnt village,” the UN convoy she was riding in paused because she had heard that hundreds of thousands of people, forced out of their homes by fighting, lived in the bush, she said.

“I had heard that maybe if we paused people might come out, and sure enough, after 15 minutes, two people, ten people, 50, 100, 300 souls came out of the bush like spectres just caked in dust, emaciated,” she continued, saying that they came forward after seeing that their convoy was not armed with machine guns. After talking to them, she found that they were “too terrified to return to rebuild their villages and they were going to stay in the bush until they felt secure.”

However, another non-UN vehicle approached, and “you could hear the pounding of the feet on the hard clay ground as 300 people vanished into the bush in sheer terror” in case the oncoming car carried armed soldiers, she said.

The dire humanitarian situation in CAR has been called the “forgotten crisis, but that implies that it was once remembered,” Ms. Farrow said. “I don’t know that it has been in the consciousness of the international community.”

She compared the current situation in eastern Chad to her experience in the country last November. While on her last visit, she saw 60 villages burned in one week as well as a “tremendous displaced and wounded population,” this time she noticed these people had been moved to makeshift camps. However, they have insufficient water and food supplies, and with the rainy season impending, more lives are at stake.

Both countries need an immediate boost of aid, Ms. Farrow said, while acknowledging that humanitarian workers must work in extremely precarious and dangerous environments. Aid agencies, including UNICEF, “are resolved to do more there and we are going to follow through on that, but I cannot underline how dangerous, how volatile, difficult the situation is for the aid workers to live there.”

Ms. Farrow also called on the UN to send in an international peacekeeping force to protect these people, especially those living close to both countries’ borders with Sudan, and allow them to rebuild their lives.

Earlier today, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) launched a $6.2 million supplementary appeal to cope with up to 150,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) expected to be made homeless this year in eastern Chad because of increasing violence and insecurity, partly driven by killings in the neighbouring Sudanese region of Darfur.



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