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Bangassou Crisis: Muslims given refuge in Church

Bangassou: Since 2013, the political crisis in Central African Republic (CAR) has escalated violently. The conflict has exacerbated a pre-existing humanitarian and health emergency.

Armed groups started to get closer to Bangassou (Mbomou Province) where Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been supporting the hospital since 2014. On May 8, intense fighting broke out between one armed group and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) in Yongofongo centre.  Over the weekend, another attack took place when the same armed group entered the UN force base.

Thousands flocked to a nearby mosque to seek refuge. The mosque was targeted which resulted in the killing of the local Imam. On May 15, a MSF mobile team finally succeeded to provide emergency medical care to the people who sought refuge in the Bangassou mosque. Among the 250 people there, MSF counted 25 wounded and provided first aid care to ten of them before gunshots forced the medical team to leave. Five of the wounded people required surgical intervention.

“Our teams are aware of further wounded elsewhere in the city who are under fire and are, therefore, unable to reach medical care. At the moment, however, it is impossible to have an idea of the exact number as we can’t move around the city centre because of the intensity of the fighting. We are asking all parties currently engaged in open fighting in Bangassou to agree to a ceasefire and allow us to collect the wounded and offer a minimum of humanitarian assistance to the population,” says René Colgo, MSF’s deputy head of mission in the facility.

In an attempt to save civilians at the mosque, the Catholic bishop sent trucks to Tokyo to transport as many civilians as possible back to the church for their safety.

Cathedral of Bangassou guarded by UN peacekeepers is reportedly providing refuge to at least two thousand Muslims.

As reported by Al Jazeera, the displaced people took refuge in the cathedral in the town of Bangassou after fleeing deadly violence in mid-May. “The situation is not safe enough to leave, and so they cannot move from here,” said Father Alain Blaise Bissialo, the priest at the church.

“There are men who walk around town with guns.”

“At last count, 150 people were killed during the violence since mid-May, but this number could rise,” Antoinne Mbao Bogo, president of the local branch of the Red Cross, told Al Jazeera on Friday.

Alidou Djibril, a displaced person at the church, said there was a shortage of food and clothes.

“It’s hard for us, we have to stay in the same place, we cannot move, and we are fasting,” he said.

“We received food one week after arriving at the church, since the Anti-balaka were not allowing traders to bring food,” said Djibril.

According to the United Nations, most of Bangassou’s residents fled into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.