BALTIMORE, MD, December 18, 2013 — Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is asking Congress to ensure robust funding to meet the staggering humanitarian needs in the Central African Republic (CAR), where a violent conflict has forced hundreds of thousands from their homes. The request was made in a statement submitted to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations which held a hearing yesterday on how to address the crisis that has played out in CAR since a coup overthrew the government in March.
In the statement, CRS commends the United States for providing $100 million to support French and African Union peacekeeping troops who are working to quell the violence and atrocities carried out by Muslim rebels and Christian self-defense groups, but stresses the critical need for humanitarian funding as well.
“A scaled-up humanitarian response in CAR requires improved security and immediate stability,” says Bill O’Keefe, Vice President for Government Relations and Advocacy. “And it must be funded at similar levels as the support to African Union troops.”
This echoes a statement released by the Religious Leaders’ Platform in CAR, stressing that reconciliation and unity are possible among all Central African women and men. The leaders include Bishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Archbishop of Bangui and President of the Episcopal Conference of Central Africa; Pastor Nicolas Guerkekoyame-Gbangou, President of the Alliance of Evangelicals in Central Africa (AEC); and Em Oumar Kobine Layama, President of the Central African Islamic Community (CICA).
“We reiterate that the violence and abuses have stripped people of all their resources. A message of reconciliation that is not supported by technical and logistical support for humanitarian relief and reconstruction may not have the desired effects,” they state.
While the increased presence of French and African Union peacekeeping troops has improved the security in parts of CAR, the humanitarian situation remains dire and appears to be worsening. Hundreds of thousands of people, Christians and Muslims who have fled their homes in fear of being attacked, are now in makeshift camps throughout the country, and staying with host families. They are in desperate need of food, water, shelter and health services. Living in cramped and unsanitary conditions, many have already died of preventable diseases or malnutrition.
CRS has worked to meet some of the most immediate needs by providing food vouchers as well as emergency food rations. In Lobaye District, CRS distributed food vouchers to more than 10,800 people. In the capital of Bangui and in other parts of the country, CRS has begun emergency food deliveries to thousands of people seeking refuge on church grounds.
CRS is also urging support for activities to restore the traditional peace that existed among CAR’s religious communities before this conflict spawned divisions along faith lines. CRS’ work with CAR’s religious leaders and inter-religious youth groups is focused on community-based solutions to dispel distrust between Christians and Muslims, as well as strategies to prevent people from taking on arms, and fueling the conflict.
“Civil society, media and religious entities in CAR are essential for supporting violence prevention initiatives, and they must be supported in the same way as the humanitarian needs are,” the CRS statement reads. “CRS urges the State Department to assess the viability and adequate funding of essential peacebuilding activities to prevent further escalation of the conflict.”
CRS is seeking support for people like Reisa, a Catholic who attended a recent meeting of Christian and Muslim youth in Bangui, CAR’s capital. She pointed out that lack of security is behind the religious divide. “Sometimes people are willing to do the right thing,” she said, “but when confronted with hunger, rape and roving gangs attacking them, people will respond with violence just to survive, not necessarily out of hate.”
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Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in nearly 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. For more information, please visit crs.org or crsespanol.org.