CAR: Trapped in Enclaves: How Politics of Inclusion could help Central African Muslim Refugees Return Home
Source: London School of Economics (Firoze Lalji Centre for Africa)
Four years after systematic ethnic cleansing led Central African Republic’s Muslim community to flee to neighbouring countries, Enrica Picco explores the challenges facing returnees.
At the beginning of the current crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR), from late 2013 to early 2014, systematic ethnic cleansing was perpetrated against the Central African Muslim community living in the capital Bangui and in the southern and western provinces of the country. Several hundred thousand Muslims were forced to flee to neighbouring countries such as Cameroon or Chad to escape death; others remained trapped in their own towns, living in enclaves and protected by international forces. The assets and properties they left behind were looted, if not completely destroyed, to prevent them from returning in the future. Houses were sold or occupied by other members of the same community.
Approaching repatriation as a political act entails that safe return and reintegration of the Muslim minorities is first of all a state responsibility. It is the state that has failed in protecting all its citizens, therefore it should be the state that takes action to revert this situation. In fact, Muslims are a minority in CAR, representing an estimated 10-15 per cent of the country’s population. In a land-locked and rural country ruled by a southern, Christian political élite, Muslims — who were mainly traders, mining professionals and cattle herders — are largely perceived as foreigners, and often harassed at police controls or excluded from employment in the civil service. Issues of identity and citizenship are therefore crucial to understanding the dynamics of both displacement and return. What could the Central African state do to help Muslim refugees return home? Field research and comparative analysis seem to suggest some key policy recommendations to address this extremely complex issue.
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