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Central African Republic: A Humanitarian Crisis with Security Implications

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The crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) is now entering its third year. Despite the deployment of a new United Nations peacekeeping mission in 2014, violence continues. In recent weeks armed groups have targeted humanitarian workers and resurgent sectarian violence has led civil society actors to warn of the possibility of genocidal violence.

In the midst of this deteriorating security environment, a massive humanitarian crisis continues to develop. More than 2.7 million civilians are in need of humanitarian assistance; almost 1 million have been internally or externally displaced from the fighting. The situation in CAR has been declared by the UN as a "Level 3 Emergency" -- a rating it currently shares with Syria, South Sudan and Iraq.

Children are the hardest hit by this crisis. The Central African Republic already has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Damaged infrastructure and interrupted government services have had a devastating impact on youth health and education. Declining rates of vaccination contribute to resurgent rates of polio and measles. The threat of cholera or other waterborne illnesses have climbed due to the severely limited access to clean water and proper sanitation. The lasting impact on the youngest generation of CAR is yet to be realized.

I have repeatedly raised the issue of humanitarian funding for the CAR crisis in the House of Commons. But there is another aspect of this crisis we need to address: the emerging regional and security implications. The current crisis in CAR has implications beyond its own borders. CAR is neighboured by Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, and South Sudan. The latter three consistently rank among the top ten failed states. The political, social and security challenges faced by these countries are exacerbated by fluctuating waves of refugees from CAR. In 2014, the number of refugees from CAR in these states topped 425,000.

A central challenge in this interconnected environment is the threat of radicalization amongst those displaced and dispossessed by the conflict. As Chad and Cameroon tackle the issue of armed incursions from Boko Haram, refugee camps overflowing with more than a quarter of a million Central Africans are becoming a growing concern. In meetings with workers on the ground, I have been told that terrorist groups are beginning to recruit actively in these camps. Unable to find work and unable to return home, young men in these camps are vulnerable targets for radicalization and recruitment to jihadi and other extremist groups.

In addition to the threat of radicalization in refugee camps, there are concerns over the spread of radicalized groups within CAR itself. These groups thrive in areas where the central government cannot exert effective control -- such as Somalia, northern Nigeria and Libya. This criterion is certainly met in CAR where the President barely maintains order in the capital city, let alone the entire country. If measures are not taken to improve the security situation in CAR, radical groups will increasingly see the country as an appealing place to base their operations, or find recruits for terrorist activities elsewhere. Canada should work actively to alleviate the dire conditions in these camps, and less the frustration and despair of the people living there.

In addition to providing urgent humanitarian assistance, we must also take steps to increase funding for formal and informal education initiatives to effectively combat the threat of radicalization. We can also play a critical role in providing political support for peace initiatives. Previous talks stalled in July of last year due to the insistence that they be moved from neighbouring Republic of Congo to CAR. Canada could provide financial and political assistance to ensure that secure and meaningful discussions take place between rebel and government leaders on CAR soil. At the grassroots level, senior religious figures from the Orthodox, Muslim and Catholic communities have begun discussions on how to stop the sectarian violence across CAR. Canada should use the resources of the Office of Religious Freedom, based in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, to support these peacebuilding initiatives.

We must reclaim our position as a strong advocate for human rights and peace. In order to do this, we must do more than increase our financial support to the Central African Republic. We must condemn the abhorrent acts of violence against women and children. We must advocate for religious tolerance and reconciliation. And we must denounce the international apathy that has allowed this crisis to drag on for so long.

Central African Republic Church Refuge Photo Essay
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