BANGUI, Central African Republic — In the Central African Republic, there are nearly 400,000 internally displaced people with just under 90 percent of the population living in poverty. The country has remained fairly unstable since it gained independence from France in 1960 and has experienced numerous coup d’états as well as violent religious and ethnic strife.
Things took a turn for the worse in March of 2013 when a rebel group named Seleka overthrew the already unstable government. Since the coup, over 150,000 people have been forced to leave their homes and hundreds of others have been killed in the bloody aftermath of the take over.
Despite the political and violent unrest in the Central African Republic (CAR), the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has been active in the region. Stationed in the nation’s capital of Bangui, UNICEF has taken efforts in refugee assistance, vaccinations and food relief. For example, they have worked to vaccinate over 500,000 children since the crisis began.
One of UNICEF’s most valuable celebrity ambassadors regarding this issue is Mia Farrow. Farrow, an internationally famous actress and activist, was appointed to the position of UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in September 2000. She first visited the Central African Republic in 2007, again in 2008, and a third time in November of 2013.
Farrow reported the extreme helplessness of refugees that she saw during her first visit. She came across refugees hiding in the bush as she drove along. Once they saw she had no weapons, she said, people would emerge after some time “caked in mud, remnants of clothing or no clothes at all. Skeletal children dangling from their arms, they smiled and their teeth — many people’s teeth had fallen from their head.”
During her most recent visit, Farrow traveled to Bossangoa, a violent region north of the capital of Bangui. There, she met with families who had recently sought refuge in the camps. She also traveled to the capital to visit a newly opened school and numerous health centers in the area.
She described with horror the abundance of rape, murder, attacks, robberies and other atrocities that have taken place and that refugees have told her about first-hand. As she explained, she doesn’t believe there are any “exact numbers of the civilians that have been raped, killed and displaced.”
Farrow also explained that she has heard of and seen a great number of child soldiers released to UNICEF for rehabilitation. Having been able to visit with them, she explained they came from both sides of the conflict and got along splendidly with each other. They are only in the camps temporarily until their families are contacted. So far, UNICEF has helped release nearly 1,000 child soldiers.
Once she returned, she publicly announced her opinion that the Central African Republic is a failed state and in danger of genocide. She explained the citizens’ pleas for help. They weren’t turning away or quiet. In fact, they were always very vocal about their desire for international aid, Farrow explained.
“They want security. They want to be safe, they want to go home,” Farrow stressed. She was adamant after her return from her third visit that the crisis is only worsening and that increased international aid is necessary.
UNICEF continues to appeal for more money to be contributed toward the situation in CAR and plans to maintain and increase humanitarian efforts in the region.
As an ambassador, Mia Farrow declares that the world should “see every humanitarian and moral reason to protect people who are pleading for protection.”
Sources: The Washington Post, UNICEF, UNICEF USA 1, BBC, UNICEF USA 2, The New Yorker
photo: Fox News