(Photo: REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun)
Persecution watchdog group Open Doors has reported of "shocking" conditions at the vast refugee camps in the Central African Republic, where people fleeing the widespread violence are living "like animals" and pastors are victimized.
"People live like real animals. There is no latrine. People are living in over-crowded conditions," said an Open Doors co-worker who witnessed the conditions in two camps around Bangui, the capital, where around the airport alone there are at least 100,000 people. The co-worker, who remained anonymous for security reasons, shared that the Christians at the camps are gathering together in worship despite the hardships they face, but many are in serious need of help.
"I have met many pastors who have been victimized who are in dire need of assistance. Our discreet assistance to others previously has made a big difference and I hope that we can make the same difference for these pastors I recently met," the Open Doors co-worker said.
The United Nations estimates that thousands of people have been killed, and nearly 1 million have been displaced since Muslim Séléka rebels launched attacks on the government over a year ago and forced President François Bozizé to flee.
Numerous attacks from the Islamist group against Christian churches have been reported, with accounts in May noting that several believers have also been killed at the hands of the rebels.
"They are targeting Catholic and Protestant churches," said Bishop Albert Vanbuel of Kaga Bandoro Diocese in May. "Throughout the country, the Catholic Church has paid dearly with many buildings damaged and groups within Séléka continue to kill each day."
The bishop added that the situation in the country is deteriorating, describing it as "a rebellion by religious extremists with evil intentions, characterized by a deliberate program of desecration and destruction of religious buildings, especially Christian ones."
A transitional government has since been established in CAR, where Christians make up around 50 percent of the population of 5 million, but its efforts to restore peace and prepare for democratic elections has been hampered due to the fighting.
"The airport site inspires fear. Among the refugees there are members of anti-Balaka groups and also Muslims who disguise themselves as people of peace and then throw grenades among Christians," the Open Doors co-worker said.
U.N. humanitarian agencies have been struggling to deliver enough food and clean water to those in need, and Open Doors noted that fears of even tougher times are growing, because many people have lost their livelihoods and are not prepared for the next planting season.
"Humanitarian agencies urgently need extra resources to provide for the basic needs of those displaced from their homes," stressed Chaloka Beyani, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons.
Other reports from Bangui, including an article in The New York Times, highlighted how much the capital city has changed, with French peace troops outnumbering civilians after an increase in deadly violence.
"The battered buildings remain, but much of the city's population has disappeared," the report says.
"People come here (the camps) because they are afraid. Violence infests the adjacent capital's ramshackle neighborhoods; looting and killing continue deep inside the labyrinthine alleyways."
And while many are finding relative safety at the refugee camps away from the city, concerns continue to rise about the hygiene conditions there. Lindis Hurum, a Doctors Without Borders coordinator, described them as a "disaster," and shared that he is very worried about epidemics breaking out.
Open Doors said that it is calling on the United Nations Security Council to approve the launch of a full-scale peacekeeping operation in CAR, noting that the failed state finds itself ranked No. 16 on its 2014 World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution.