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"We should therefore look for ways to inspire and support the refugee community"

November 23, 2018
topic:Refugees and Asylum
tags:#Central African Republic, #human rights, #Anti Balaka, #Africa Film Festival, #refugees
located:Central African Republic
by:Bob Koigi
In Bangui, the Central African Republic capital, hundreds of thousands of residents live in fear as sporadic conflicts flare up, leaving a trail of death.

When the war broke out in 2013, occasioned by a bloody feud between the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebel group and the Anti Balaka faction made of Christian fighters, mayhem was visited upon the city as gangs beheaded, murdered and raped citizens.

Thousands fled the country, but to those who had no means, they bundled themselves together at the country’s main airport which was deemed safe due to the presence of UN and French soldiers. It formed the largest camp accommodating over 100,000 people initially who were living in dilapidated tents set up a stone’s throw from the runway.

And while the warring factions later called a cease-fire residents refused to go back to their homes. But having lived for over three years in the camp, residents overcame misery and despair to establish small businesses and schools, allowing them to get back on their feet.

From shoe making enterprises, restaurants, mechanics’ workshops, pig farm, salons, film screening and even motor taxis, business was booming with the camp acquiring the name “tent city”. For recreational activities, they would engage in wrestling, football and dance.

It gave the refugees a sense of normalcy and provided them with an easier escape route from their miseries.

A modest school, made of ramshackle tents was set up and despite having twice as many pupils as it had intended it provided a source of solace to children. Occasionally, however, it would get vandalised by criminals.

Still, the refugees soldiered on and even told the story of their resilience and resolve to overcome the fear of violence in a documentary christened Zone III which was named after one of the busiest camps at the airport. It is a story of people who get to the camp with nothing, brave harsh conditions to build their lives and provide for their children.

So compelling was the documentary that it emerged winner in the Africa Film Festival in the US and has been screened in European Film Festivals while receiving commendation from the global film industry.

In 2017 when relative calm was restored after a truce was brokered between the militia groups, the government demolished the camp in a bid to get people to return to their homes and bolster the safety of the airport.

But even as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, set out to rebuild 4,000 homes to assist the refugees to start life afresh, a majority of those who were living in tent city had already saved enough and have assisted each other in constructing homes. They have continued with the businesses they started at the camp while maintaining their customer base.

Pascal Serra who directed the film now uses the proceeds he gets from screening the documentary to assist people to rebuild their lives.

As the country enjoys some degree of peace, tens of thousands more people are still living in tents spread across the country for fear of fresh attacks. The conflict has been touted as one of the worst in Central and West Africa having left displaced 900,000 people, 60 per cent of who are children and left an approximated 6,000 more dead. To date, some 2.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

But the triumph of the refugees at the tent city is one of the emerging cases in war-torn countries where those displaced are turning their sorry situations into stories of hope and opportunities from the enterprising refugees of Uganda to the innovative youth in Cameroon. “What we are increasingly seeing in the 21st-century conflicts are refugees who are tired of waiting for aid and support that sometimes is not forthcoming and are therefore looking for small ways to sustain themselves and their families while keeping themselves busy as a way of fighting misery. While all measures should be put in place to ensure no conflict exists we have to be alive to the fact that conflict is part of us. We should, therefore, look for ways to inspire and support the refugee community to assist them to rebuild their lives. The Central African Republic is a classic case study,” said Mark Kutesa a security policy analyst in East Africa.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Central African Republic
Embed from Getty Images
A bloody feud between the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebel group and the Anti Balaka faction made of Christian fighters broke out, the gangs beheaded, murdered and raped citizens.
Embed from Getty Images
Thousands fled the country.
Embed from Getty Images
Having lived for over three years in the camp, residents overcame misery and despair to establish small businesses and schools, allowing them get back on their feet.
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