THE BLOG

Cameroon: Helping Central African Refugees Overcome Trauma Caused by the Massacres

28/03/2015 20:31 GMT | Updated 26/05/2015 10:59 BST

The coup d'etat that took place in Central African Republic two years ago this week has affected nearly the entire population, leaving over half of it (over 2.5 million) in dire need of assistance. Over 450,000 people have fled the country with almost as many internally displaced.

For two years the northern and western regions of the country have seen intense and unprecedented violence against civilians and minorities. The UN has warned there is a real risk the country could be split in two or more areas, controlled by various factions of armed groups if there is not more of a concerted global effort to achieve peace.

Horrific human rights violations are committed on a daily basis, including massacres, abductions, rape and the recruitment of child soldiers.

132,000 Central Africans have taken refuge in Cameroon. Many are suffering from traumas associated with the violence they witnessed and experienced. Many have walked for weeks and taken refuge in the bush along the way to hide from armed groups.

Our team met Jamila, and her son Paul*, refugees at the Timangolo camp. They are receiving psychosocial support from CARE.

Jamila, a teacher, has lost two of her sons during the massacres in the Central African Republic that have devastated the country over the past two years. She and her eldest son, Paul*, fled leaving behind their friends, relatives and all their possessions to escape their own death.

"When my home was attacked, my husband tried to defend it but he was killed. Armed men fired right at me and my three sons. Paul, my eldest, saw his little brother die in his arms. Their other brother was also killed. Paul and I had bullet and machete wounds but the men started to set fire to our home so we had to try to escape."

While telling me her story, Jamila glanced several times at the three amputated fingers on her left hand. "After I ran away from home, I spent many nights hiding and sleeping outside. One night, a few kilometres from my village, I was trying to find a safe place to sleep and was hit by a bullet. I don't remember what happened. I passed out. But someone found me and thank god took me to hospital."

While she spoke, Paul kept his gaze fixed on the ground. He could hardly speak about what he had gone through. "My son and I were separated when we left our village during the attack. When he tried to escape, he received machete blows to his head, arms and hands and fell into a very deep hole. His attackers must have left him for dead and continued their attack on other families. My boy couldn't move; he remained in the hole in the ground for many many hours. A local organisation responsible for recovering bodies found him there. I was told they found him utterly paralysed with fear and soaked in blood."

After they received medical care, they were linked up to a humanitarian convoy, which helped them cross the border into Cameroon. From there, they walked for many days but finally made it to the Timangolo camp where they have been for several months.

They are now being looked after by CARE psychologists, who will help them learn to live again and deal with the scenes of violence that haunt them night and day. Neither Jamila or Paul talk about their life before, or of the family they left behind in the Central African Republic. Paul struggles to speak about what he has been through. Jamila speaks for him, "hiding in the hole may have saved his life, but it did not protect him from the trauma he experienced and the atrocities he has seen," she explains. "He can't get rid of the image of his dead brothers, the little one lying in his arms. It will take a long time for him to recover from his own pain too, what they did to him."

CARE's work

The CARE team provides support for refugees in four sites in East Cameroon. CARE provides access to water and sanitation as well as psychosocial support activities. CARE also supports the Cameroon population, whose limited resources are facing increasing pressure.

For more information, visit www.careinternational.org.uk

*Real names have not been used