41-year-old Ladifa returned home to Sosso-Nakombo, a town west of the Central African Republic, after spending five years in Cameroon. Photo: Chanel Igara/NRC
After having spent four years as a refugee in Cameroon, Ladifa and her family returned home to western Central African Republic (CAR), only to find their house occupied by another resident.

Since 2013, violence between armed groups in CAR has led to massive displacements. Every fourth person in the country have been displaced.

Sosso-Nakombo is a small town in the south-west of the country, a few days walk from Cameroon. Over the past years, many of its Muslim residents have fled from attacks by armed groups and crossed into the neighbouring country for safety. Since the beginning of 2018, the situation has slowly calmed down, and many families have decided to come back.

Our ICLA staff aid the local community in resolving housing disputes. Photo: Chanel Igara/NRC

Most of the families have been away for several years. When they return, they often find their houses destroyed, or occupied by people who refuse to leave. 41-year-old Ladifa, a mother of six, is one of these returnees.

Hundreds of unresolved land disputes

Even as peace has returned, it is difficult for refugees and internally displaced people to regain access to their property. Many have lost the documentation that proves ownership of their homes, while legislation addressing land and property disputes is non-existent. Left with few choices, Ladifa and her family stayed with a host family.

“I have been fighting hard to get my house back,” recounts Ladifa, who approached the local authorities to settle the dispute. With the ongoing return of refugees to Sosso-Nakombo, conflicts between occupants and homeowners are likely to increase. There are currently more than 340 unresolved disputes in the city.

Training locals to solve disputes

With tensions and tempers rising high, a community group was set up, made up of local authorities and influential community leaders. Without a functioning judicial system, this community group is a step towards the peaceful resolution of property disputes.

I have been fighting hard to get my house back.
Ladifa (41)

The Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) information, counselling and legal assistance (ICLA) team has supported the group in their analysis of each dispute, by consulting them on property rights and clarifying grey areas.

Thus far, 342 occupied houses have been catalogued by the group.

Many returnees are in need of legal assistance. Photo: Chanel Igara/NRC

Forced to leave everything behind

Before the conflict, Ladifa had a decent life. She sold peanut oil at the local market, earning enough money to support her six children and husband, who was unemployed.

She knew that fleeing her home meant losing her livelihood, but it was too dangerous for the family to stay in Sosso-Nakombo. In Cameroon, Ladifa and her family became reliant on humanitarian aid and the generosity of host communities.

“Now that I’ve managed to return to my home country, I worry for my family’s survival. It took me time and effort to reach a comfortable life, and now it’s all gone,” says Ladifa.

When they returned to Sosso-Nakombo, Ladifa worried that her family would again become dependent on their host family’s good faith. “My family and I lived in one single room. All of us had to share one bed,” she says.

Ladifa and her family currently share one room in their host family's house, but will soon be able to move home. Photo: Chanel Igara/NRC

Host communities in CAR are often already extremely poor and lack the economic resources and capacity to support the increasing numbers of displaced persons and returnees. Since they returned, Ladifa and her children have had to survive on only one meal a day.

Ladifa can finally move home

With funding from UNHCR, our ICLA team have been able to support Ladifa with information on her housing, land and property rights. As a result, the occupant of her house has finally accepted to vacate the premises and to search for a new place to stay.

“Since we started providing support to the community mechanism, we have realised that more and more returnees are able to get their houses back. While it might take a bit of time to move home, they’re still avoiding a lengthy and tiresome procedure,” shares our ICLA assistant, Jophiel.