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UNICEF Airlifts Bring Relief to Central African Republic

December 19, 2013

Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, arrived in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (C.A.R.), today. Power is meeting government officials, aid workers and civilians, and her trip signals increased American interest in the country's crisis.

Power's visit comes on the day of the release of a Human Rights Watch report: They Came to Kill that documents the escalating brutality — by both Muslim armed groups and Christian militias — engulfing the C.A.R.

UNICEF is accelerating its relief efforts. A chartered MD-11 flight carrying 77 metric tons of UNICEF emergency supplies landed in Bangui on Dec. 13, the largest of five UNICEF relief airlifts to arrive since the current violence broke out a year ago.

Cargo included blankets, jerry cans, medicine, water purification supplies, plastic sheeting and health kits for up to 37,500 people. Further flights with another 100 metric tons of humanitarian goods are expected this week.

UNICEF distributed emergency medical supplies to Bangui hospitals earlier this month after sectarian fighting in the capital took an estimated 1,000 lives.

Children: victims, witnesses, orphans, soldiers

Children are increasingly targets of violence. UNICEF identified numerous children with bullet or machete wounds at Bangui's pediatric hospital in the aftermath of the early-December fighting. Thousands more have been traumatized by the brutality they have witnessed.

“They see adult family members arrested, detained, and beaten, and homes looted. It’s terribly destructive to their emotional well-being and their sense of place in the world," said UNICEF Emergency Coordinator Bob McCarthy

A 16-year-old boy at a UNICEF-supported center for former child soldiers in the Central African Republic. A 16-year-old boy holds a self-portrait he made while living last year in a UNICEF-supported center for former child soldiers in Ndélé, Central African Republic. Growing numbers of children are being recruited as soldiers as conflict intensifies.

Numerous children like 11-year-old Belvia Salo, who witnessed the murder of her father and the rape and abduction of her mother, have been separated from their parents or orphaned. Others have been recruited into the fighting — the number of child soldiers in the country has doubled.

40,000 people take refuge at Bangui airport

The number of displaced people continues to grow. In and around the capital alone, an estimated 189,000 people — half of them children — have sought refuge at more than 40 different sites. Some 40,000 are encamped at Bangui's airport in search of safety, the New York Times reports.

“Families with small children are living under the wings of airplanes, exposed to wind and rain," said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. "Many have witnessed terrible violence and are too afraid to return home.”

Displacement is also surging in the country's northwest. Bossangoa, a provincial capital, has been described as "little more than a ghost town," and thousands of residents have fled to two camps, one Muslim, one Christian.  Families at both sites are in urgent need of shelter, water, food and health services.

"I have never seen a situation as catastrophic," said UNICEF's Seydou Camara who has been working at the two sites.

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