AKRON, Pa. – Forced from home by fighting in the Central African Republic, hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing to neighboring countries, including Chad.
At a transitional refugee camp in Moundou, Chad, about 60 miles from the Central African Republic border, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) representative Angela Austin was struck by their plight.
“For the hundreds of people arriving daily, many of them have gone for five days without any food at all,” Austin said. “There are women, children, sick and elderly people within these groups.”
In late March, Austin and her spouse, Jonathan Austin, MCC representatives in Chad, visited the camp, run by the International Organization for Migration. The Austins are from Boardman, Ohio.
“What broke my heart perhaps more than anything,” she said, “was when I visited the camp, it was as if nothing was out of the ordinary, as if this was everyday life. It speaks to their strength, their resilience. They are doing what needs to be done for the sake of their families.”
Through a long-time partner in Chad, Bureau d’Appui aux Organisations de Base or Baobab, MCC is providing meals and mosquito nets to 150 of the most vulnerable residents of the camp.
MCC’s effort focuses on those who are too ill or weak to cook and orphans or other children who do not have adults traveling with them. From April to June, they will receive two cooked meals a day, such as millet or rice and fish or meat.
According to the Austins, the camp originally planned to provide an initial hot meal to all people as they arrived, but the numbers were overwhelming and resources dwindled quickly. Three hundred to 800 people arrive each day; sometimes as many as 1,000.
Now new arrivals are given only an energy biscuit, a dry bar that helps provide nutrients including protein. After that, people receive rations of dry grains and oil.
Mosquito nets, always a staple in Chad, are especially important now. “This year, Chad has seen particularly large numbers of people with malaria compared to other years,” Angela Austin noted. “If we can help keep those who are already in vulnerable situations from getting this potentially fatal illness, we want to do what we can.”
The camp is meant to house people for only a few days. However, exceptions are made for those who are too ill or weak to travel and for those who have nowhere else to go.
Since December 2012, violence in the Central African Republic has left thousands dead; the United Nations estimates that more than 700,000 people are displaced within the country and nearly 300,000 others are seeking refuge in neighboring countries.
An internal conflict, which began as a rebel coalition seizing power, sparked into violence, with bloody fighting between Christian and Muslim militias and atrocities committed on both sides.
Thousands of Chadians living in the Central African Republic have fled to Chad, along with many other nationalities. Some are met at the border by family or friends. Others settle in camps, such as the one in Moundou, until they can be reunited with their own families or settle with host families.
A major emphasis of MCC’s work in Chad in the last few years is peace workshops, intended to build relationships and peace skills between Christian and Muslim leaders to help prevent the sort of violent conflict haunting the Central African Republic and other central African countries. Read about this effort, and about MCC’s work with Baobab, in the Spring 2014 issue of MCC’s magazine, A Common Place, at acommonplace.mcc.org.