Zannah Bassar, a Muslim woman living in the Central African Republic (CAR) capital, Bangui, has a simple message for the international community – she wants to be evacuated.
“I was born in this district,” she told IRIN this week, “but my home has been wrecked. I’ve been sleeping in the street for the past month and I want to send an SOS. I want to go somewhere else.”
Bassar and about 3,200 fellow Muslims are trapped in a kilometer-long district of Bangui known as PK12. Half a dozen other Muslims IRIN interviewed in the same district this week all said they wanted to leave.
“The people in PK12 have a deep desire to get out of there,” said Jacques Seurt, head of mission for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in CAR, which has stopped chartering rescue flights out of the country for lack of funding.
“They are under constant threat from the anti-balaka as are other Muslims in the west of the country.”
The country’s Muslims have been the target of reprisal attacks because the Seleka rebel alliance that toppled the government in March 2013 was predominantly made up of Muslims and committed widespread atrocities in many parts of the country.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on 25 February that “more than 15,000 people in 18 locations are surrounded by armed groups across the west of the CAR… and at high risk of attack,” adding that most of these people are Muslim.
« Areas we are particularly worried about include the PK12 neighbourhood in Bangui and the towns of Boda, Bouar and Bossangoa, » a spokesman said.
Anti-balaka have been firing grenades at PK12 from surrounding hills and infiltrating the area, wounding several people, said Peter Neussl of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
On 19 February, UNHCR reported, the anti-balaka attacked a convoy of people trying to escape from PK12. All 21 men in the convoy were killed, leaving 119 children and 19 women, who fled to a nearby village.
Security has improved in Bangui since December when around 1,000 people were killed there in a few days, but attacks are still happening almost daily. On 22 February three Muslims were dragged from a taxi and shot dead at an anti-balaka road block, two days later five men were killed in the PK5 district and on 26 February four Muslim children were kidnapped (an OCHA worker helped negotiate their release two days later).