UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Central African Republic is facing a humanitarian crisis with 2.4 million people in need of assistance and the U.N.'s $534 million appeal only 36% funded, a U.N. official said Wednesday.
Mohamed Ag Ayoya, deputy special representative for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country, told a news conference that 10 years of conflict have displaced half a million people within the country while 700,000 have fled to neighboring countries. Mineral-rich but impoverished CAR has a population of 6 million.
But Ayoya said CAR has also opened its doors to 38,000 returnees and asylum-seekers from Chad, and more recently to 18,000 returnees and asylum seekers from another neighbor, Sudan, where a conflict between rival generals and their supporters is now in its fifth month.
Ayoya stressed that CAR "is not just a humanitarian crisis, it's also actually a protection and a gender crisis."
In the first six months of 2023, there have been an "extremely high" number of cases of gender-based violence – 11,000 – and the number is probably higher because these cases aren't always reported, he said.
CAR has faced intercommunal fighting since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power and forced then-President Francois Bozize from office. Mostly Christian militias later fought back, also targeting civilians in the streets. The United Nations estimates the fighting has killed thousands.
CAR's President Faustin Archange Touadera has developed close ties to Russia and its Wagner mercenary group whose forces have served as his personal bodyguards. Wagner has also protected the capital of Bangui from rebel threats and helped Touadera win the July 30 constitutional referendum that could extend his power indefinitely.
Following the death of Wagner's leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in a plane crash in Russia last month, the Republican Front in the Central African Republic, which is allied with the country's ruling party, reiterated its support for Russia and Wagner, saying they were "determined to fight alongside the African people as they struggle for self-determination."
Ayoya said security in the country has improved and humanitarian workers have been able to access areas that they couldn't for the past 10 years. He said there are armed groups and security issues around CAR's borders with Sudan, Chad and South Sudan and minefields and explosives in the west.
He said the widespread presence of the U.N. peacekeeping force, known as MINUSCA, and its mandate that includes protecting humanitarian convoys "has been very, very helpful."
Ayoya urged the international community to keep a spotlight on the humanitarian crisis and the need for more funding for CAR, which he called "Africa's overlooked middle child, one that is … landlocked and often forgotten, inside a troubled region becoming even more troubled with the new events that are happening over the past few weeks."
He said U.N. humanitarian appeals for the country in 2021 and 2022 were around 95% funded – and the current appeal's funding of just 36% at this time of year is very worrying. The U.N. announced Tuesday it was giving CAR $6.5 million from its emergency relief fund.
Ayoya also stressed that CAR needs longer-term solutions and funds for development. "We cannot continue really just doing firefighting," he said.