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We Must Not Forget the Horrors of Violence Further Afield Than Our Borders

16/10/2015 17:43 BST | Updated 16/10/2016 10:12 BST

Over the summer, we saw the horrific results of a refugee crisis unravelling across Europe. Conflict in the Middle East and the emergence of ISIL has led to the displacement of millions who seek sanctuary from violence. It was right that world leaders turned their attentions to this human tragedy. However, although Middle East conflicts have reached our own borders in a dramatic manner, we should not forget the horrors of violence further afield.

Last month the Central African Republic experienced an upsurge of violence which must now sound an alarm bell in the West. Central African Republic may be a far off land about which we know little. Yet, we have come to learn that, aside from moral responsibility the UK has toward humans under threat, such situations eventually affect us too.

Most people displaced by war and genocide remain as close to home as they can, but inevitably some will seek refuge in distant countries. Instability affects our security too as conflict and war creates breeding grounds for terrorist movements. Local people bear the brunt of violence, but the threat is global.

Central African Republic has suffered a cycle of conflict for decades since its independence from French colonial control. Rich in gold, diamonds, timber and uranium, it has the potential to be a success-story of Africa, but has been stifled by five coup d'etats and a continued undermining of democratic settlements.

Over the last few years there has been a worrying increase in sectarian violence and since the end of 2013 the UN has ranked it among the World's worse humanitarian crises - although one would not know this from the level of coverage. With thousands already killed, half a million displaced and around half of the civilian population in need of humanitarian assistance, aid experts repeatedly warn the world it is a country on the brink of catastrophe.

The sudden resurgence in inter-communal fighting at the end of September followed the reported beheading of a young Muslim taxi driver. In just one weekend, at least 60 people were killed. The incident stoked widespread fear across the population and tens of thousands more were forced to leave their home.

The recent violence has made the humanitarian challenge more evident. Militia have ransacked the offices of nearly a dozen offices and warehouses, including the international Red Cross and humanitarian organisations have been left vulnerable to attack. Key staff of aid agencies that remain are now unable to enter areas that require support for fear of sectarian violence, significantly affecting their ability to support the people in Central African Republic.

Earlier this month, the UK Government committed more money to the humanitarian aid effort in CAR, to support the civilian population in CAR or neighbouring Cameroon, where many have fled. The money will help pay for lifesaving medicine, food and water, and we should be proud of this latest commitment which means the UK is the world's second largest bilateral donor after the United States since the recent bout of violence began in 2013. Other countries should follow suit.

Stopping at aid assistance however will not solve the underlying problems and will come at a long-term human and financial cost. While the latest violence appears to be settling, it should be viewed as another 'foreshock', similar to that of two years ago, providing us warning to prepare for a 'humanitarian earthquake'. If action is taken with some urgency, this could be a rare opportunity to avert a major human-made disaster, rather than pick up the pieces afterwards.

The challenge is immense. The President, Catherine Samba-Panza, must receive political support from the UK and others for democratic reform, despite the elections, planned for this month, likely to be delayed due to the upsurge in violence.

The situation also requires a new approach to conflict prevention. Around $1billion is already spent each year by the international community on stabilising the Central African Republic. A small proportion of this sum should be spent on supporting champions of peace, the Catholic, Protestant and Muslim leaders in the capital Bangui calling for reconciliation. This would help us avoid spending on security and aid in the long-term.

The Aegis Trust, a British charity based in my own constituency, have been invited by these courageous faith leaders to bring the peace building experience they have gained in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide there, to help quell hate-fuelled violence in there own country. These are solutions, created from experiences in Africa, to the problems African countries face today.

The British Government must advocate these efforts. This would not only save many lives, but make economic sense by lessening the need for humanitarian support and security interventions,ensuring that one day a stable Government may lead the Central African Republic from one of the world's worst situations to a peaceful and prosperous country.