Massive refugee airlift underway from Central African Republic

The Central African Republic was plunged into chaos last year after a coalition of rebels ousted the president, the latest in a series of coups since it gained independence. One of the rebels became interim President, and political turmoil and violence spiraled. In November 2013, the UN warned that Central African Republic was at risk of spiraling into genocide.

At least 1,000 people have died in the violence, and some 958,000 more, many of them children, have been forced from their homes within the Central African Republic, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR. Nearly a quarter of the population has been displaced.

On Saturday, an operation to airlift thousands of African migrants stranded in violence-ravaged Central African Republic in dire humanitarian conditions started. The airlift, on a specially chartered plane, has been set up by the International Organization for Migration in response to the urgent need for tens of thousands of migrants to flee the country. Priority has been given to families, especially women and children.

Three charter flights to Chad will be followed by two to Mali. In the past couple of weeks, the IOM has helped other African nations including Senegal and Burkino Fas, to evacuate thousands of their citizens. The operation to fly out all the migrants stranded in the country will likely take several weeks. Many are outside the capital, making movement dangerous and access difficult.

Many will need psychological and social support to help them recover from their experience, not least because foreigners have often been the target of the violence currently tearing the Central African Republic apart.

While nearly 27,000 migrants from neighboring countries have been evacuated by their countries, at least 33,000 more who’ve asked for help from their embassies remain in urgent need of aid, the IOM said.

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