N’DJAMENA: Desperate Chadian refugees who fled chaos in the Central African Republic on Sunday recounted the horror they went through when they were attacked and threatened by angry mobs as the country became engulfed in sectarian violence.
“They came to kill my husband outside his store, then looted it,” 40-year-old Mariam Moussa told AFP of her Bangui plight after the Chadian army airlifted her to Ndjamena.
“I was born in Central Africa, I don’t know anybody in Chad, what shall I do?” she wailed.
Moussa has found a temporary shelter at one of three reception centres that have sprung up in the Chadian capital to accommodate “forced returnees” as they are called here.
“When they attacked our house later, I managed to flee and spent four days in a mosque and two days at the airport before taking the plane to Ndjamena,” she explained.
She had to leave her daughter behind because the 15-year-old was away visiting friends near the Central African Republic’s capital. “I haven’t heard from her and I don’t know what to do.”
Chadian civilians have left the country in land convoys in addition to an air bridge set up by the Chadian government.
According to Chadian Social Affairs Minister Rosine Baiwong Djibergui, “more than 5,000 Chadians have (so far) been repatriated to Ndjamena from the CAR, mostly children, women and old people”. Roughly 8,000 are returning to southern Chad in land convoys.
The mass exodus is unprecedented despite the former French colony’s long history of unrest and follows weeks of violence pitting majority Christians against Muslims, who make up about one-fifth of the CAR’s population.
Chopping peoples’ heads off ‘as if they were animals’
At Ndjamena’s No1 centre, refugees’ stories barely convey the trauma they went through.
Mahamoud Amine Moussa, a 25-year-old Bangui student, “lost several fellow students who were stoned or hacked to death and cut up with knives by Central Africans”.
He prefers to “stay in Chad and start a new life.”
Olivier Toguiam, a 20-year-old highschool student, will not forget “the worst nightmare of my life”.
“I saw Central Africans chop other people’s heads off as if they were animals,” he said, recalling how he saw two Chadian students he knows well getting killed.
“They had gone out for food, that’s how the so-called anti-Balakas caught them,” he said referring to the local Christian self-defence groups. They were formed in the CAR after the rise to power of Michel Djotodia, president since March, following the overthrow and flight of predecessor Francois Bozize.
Djotodia was a leader of the Muslim Seleka rebel coalition.
Chad, a religiously diverse country with more than half of the population Muslim, has played a major strategic role in the region for decades and backed and armed the Seleka, according to experts, 10 years after giving support to Bozize’s coup that earlier ousted Ange-Felix Patasse.
But Chadian troops in the African peace-keeping force deployed in the Central African Republic (MISCA) are alleged to be close to the former rebels who stand accused of murder, rape and looting.
At the number 3 reception centre Amina Youssouf, 45, widowed and mother of eight, said she saw the Christian militias “even behead children”.
“I managed to flee with three of my children, the other five have been holed up in our house,” she said.
“I am very worried about them. They are in the hands of God,” she added after arriving without any belongings.
“I am a widow, I want my children to come back to Chad so we can stay here for good because I don’t want to go back to Bangui.”