The crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) is little known, at least compared with other more high-profile humanitarian crises such as Syria. But the impact of the crisis for the people of that country and the potential negative effects across what is still a fragile region have been profound. As of October 2014, more than 425,000 people have fled CAR. They have suffered from intense violence and shocking levels of malnutrition during their long and treacherous journey to find refuge.
The European Union, under the leadership of former ECHO Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, has been in the fore the past two years in calling attention to the CAR crisis. The United States is the largest humanitarian donor in the region, providing nearly $150 million inside CAR and for CAR refugees in neighboring countries. Therefore, it is only fitting that USEU together with EU partners and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should have joined forces recently to raise awareness of the regional dimensions of this crisis.
On October 27, we co-organized a roundtable consultation with key stakeholders to encourage increased attention, and humanitarian and development support, to address the basic and long-term needs for refugees and vulnerable migrants who have sought refuge in the countries surrounding CAR. The day-long event attracted 60 participants from the U.S. Government, the European Commission, EU Member States, NGOs, UN humanitarian agencies, and think tanks, and highlighted the importance of creative strategies to address long-term issues such as promoting refugee self-sufficiency and reconciliation measures. Headlining the event for the United States was Ambassador Stuart Symington, U.S. Special Representative for the CAR crisis, and Margaret McKelvey, Director of the Office of Humanitarian Assistance to Africa in the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Ambassador Symington spoke of the importance of creating a feeling of citizenship as a foundation for rebuilding stability in CAR.
Ms. McKelvey, who had just returned from the region where she saw firsthand the conditions of refugees and returning migrants in Cameroon and Chad, described how the international community is responding and emphasized that protection and security remain serious challenges. Ms. Carla Montesi, Director for Western and Central Africa in the European Commission’s DG Devco, spoke to the EU response, in particular the Bekou Trust Fund that the EU just launched. (Bekou means “hope” in the local Sango language spoken in CAR.) The Bekou Fund is seeking to link relief programs with development, providing immediate relief to people in need while at the same time supporting the capacity of local authorities to promote peace and to create conditions for long-term development.
From the start of this crisis, the EU and the U.S. have been in the forefront the humanitarian response in Central Africa, promoting restoration of security, helping to bring warring sides together, and addressing humanitarian needs both within CAR and its neighbors. The recent roundtable was another step in our joint effort to bring a lasting peace to this shattered region of the world.
By David DiGiovanna, Humanitarian and Migration Affairs Officer at the U.S. Mission to the EU