When Philippe had returned with his family to his home in Berberati, western Central African Republic, he found it occupied by Khaltouma and Mamatsouk who had also been displaced by violence. There are now 15 people living in the same house. Refugees and internally displaced persons who fled attacks of armed groups in 2014 are now slowly returning to Berberati. Some return to find to their homes occupied. Through dialogue and mediation facilitated by NRC, some returnees regain access to their home but solutions should also be found to the secondary occupants who accept to vacate the home. In some cases, the owner will allow the secondary occupants to stay as Philippe did with Khaltouma and Mamatsouk.

Credit: Hajer Naili/ NRC
Read caption When Philippe and his family returned home four years after they fled their home in the Central African Republic, they found two people living in their house. Photo: Hajer Naili/NRC

Compassion in times of war

Hajer Naili and Thale Jenssen|Published 07. Nov 2018
When Philippe and his family returned home four years after they fled, they found two people living in their house.

"We asked them to stay," says Philippe. He sits together with his children at the entrance of his house in Berberati, west in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Like him and his family, his house occupants Khaltouma and Mamatsouk had been forced to flee their homes because of violence. Philippe had no conscience to ask them to leave his family’s home. Today, they are 15 people living together in the house.

One in four is displaced

Since late 2012, the Central African Republic has been wracked by a bloody, armed conflict forcing thousands of people to flee their homes. At the end of 2016, the conflict escalated in the east of the country and spread to new areas. As a result, the number of internally displaced people increased by 70 per cent last year – reaching 689,000. At the same time, some people have been able to return to more stable parts of the country.

Still, 1.2 million people are now either internally displaced or have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. This means that one-in-four Central Africans is displaced.

Displaced by violence, hundred of families are living on the PK5 site, Carnot, CAR, where houses have built so they have a place to call home. Credit: Hajer Naili/NRC
Read caption Through dialogue and mediation, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) assists returnees regaining access to their homes when returning after years of displacement. Photo: Hajer Naili/NRC


Returning to occupied homes

Refugees and internally displaced people who fled violence in western Central African Republic several years ago are slowly returning home. Many have been displaced for a long time and find their homes occupied by other people in their absence.

Through dialogue and mediation, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) assists returnees regaining access to their homes when returning after years of displacement. We also search for solutions for occupants who accept to vacate the homes. Sometimes, the owner will allow the occupants to stay, as Philippe and his family did.

Khaltouma has been displaced since 2014 after fleeing an attack against her village. She took refuge in Philippe’s house. Khaltouma had nowhere to go and has not heard from her children for the past 4 years. Upon his return, Philippe let her stay with his family and she now lives with them.
                                                                                                                                                                                       
Credit: Hajer Naili/ NRC
Read caption Khaltouma fled her home in 2014, when her village was attacked. Photo: Hajer Naili/NRC


Khaltouma had to flee in 2014, when her village was attacked. She took refuge in Philippe’s house, where Philippe and his family now let her stay together with them.

She has nowhere else to go and has not heard from her children for the past four years.

Destin, 41, father of 5 children. With his family, Destin fled an attack against his village in 2014. “We fled and hid in the bush. We lived like animals for two years in the bush” says Destin, a displaced from Zaire, a village located about 100km from Carnot, western Central African Republic.

“We didn’t take any bag with us. We just fled. They killed 5 persons of our village including my aunt. She was shot three times; one to her neck, one to her chest, and another one to her lower abdomen.

“I had not returned there but a few days after the attacks, neighbors who went back to check on their property found her body, swollen, in state of decomposition. They dug a hole and buried her there.

“I could not distinguish if it was the Peuhls or anti-balaka militia that we firing at us. I don’t meddle into politics, I don’t carry weapons, I don’t know how to fight, so why did this happened to us?

“It took us a year with my family to be reunited together in the bush. We fled in a scattered fashion, walked along the Mambéré River.

“Every day was about survival. Each day I wondered whether I will die or live. Within the first months of our flight, we could still hear gunshots. I would turn around to make sure my wife and children weren’t shot by a stray bullet.

“ we built a shelter made of tree leaves, straw and wooden sticks to sleep at night.

“The women would return to the village to find out if there was anything left they could bring back to eat. They would also take whatever they find dans les champs.

“After two years, fighting calmed and headed to Carnot. I found a home that was unoccupied. I just wanted to find a safe refuge for family until we could go somewhere else. I cleaned the house, put doors and windows on it. We lived there for another two years until the daughter of the owner of the house showed up. They had fled too and now intended to return. This was not my house and after mine was burned down, I understand too well the need to have a home. I promised the daughter that we would leave before they would returned.

“One day, I was told about construction of homes to start. I volunteered to help clean the site and then I was allowed to build my little home. That’s how I ended up here.

“After several years of living in fear and suffering, I am finally well with my family. There are still little struggles we face like not having enough food since we don’t have a sufficient and regular income but knowing that we don’t need to move again is a relief.

“We had a few ugly years. It’s behind now and I won’t resent anyone but it still hurts. It used to cry but now life has improved.”                                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                                                                     
NRC with funds from UNHCR secured a piece of land in the district PK5 , Carnot, on which IDPs who vacated homes of returnees could build a little home.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                                                                 
Credit: Hajer Naili/NRC
Read caption Destin volunteered to help clear a site for construction work and was allowed to build his own home on the site. "After several years of living in fear, we’re finally well," he says. Photo: Hajer Naili/NRC


Found shelter in an unoccupied home

Although some people have been able to return to more stable parts of the country, violence is currently spreading to new parts of the Central African Republic. The number of displaced people is back at the same level as it was during the height of the crisis in 2013-2014. 

Destin, 41, and his family fled an attack against their home village, in western Central African Republic in 2014. "We fled and hid in the bush. We lived like animals for two years," he says. "I don’t meddle into politics, I don’t carry weapons, I don’t know how to fight, so why did this happen to us?"

After two years, fighting calmed and Destin and his family found a home that was unoccupied. "I just wanted to find a safe refuge for my family until we could go somewhere else. I cleaned the house, put doors and windows on it."

They lived there for two years until the owner showed up. The owner had fled too and wanted to return. Destin promised them that they would leave.

Shortly after, Destin volunteered to help clear a site nearby for construction work and he was allowed to build his own home on the site. "After several years of living in fear, we’re finally well," he says.                                                                                                                                                                           

The crisis in CAR

Since its independence in 1960, CAR has seen continuous political crises of dictatorship, military coups and armed clashes. In December 2012, civil war broke out between the predominantly Muslim rebel group Seleka, from the marginalised northern areas, and the Christian and animist militia anti-Balaka.

In 2014, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced after the Seleka overthrew then-President François Bozizé. Later that year, armed groups agreed to a ceasefire. By then, almost one quarter of the population had been forced to flee

While the elections in 2016 were peaceful, the government still struggles to achieve lasting peace.

A neglected crisis

Despite the escalation in the conflict, the crisis continued to receive little media attention and the humanitarian needs of the population are chronically neglected. With only 41 per cent of the appeal met, it was one of the least funded major crises in 2017. The political efforts have also been limited. Several truces have been signed, but not respected.