Door-to-door brutality in the Central African Republic's civil war

A doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières describes the desperate plight of people driven from their homes by violence and fear

The conflict between Muslim rebels and Christian militias in the Central African Republic has claimed hundreds of lives and forced more than a million to flee their homes. Natalie Roberts, an emergency doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), experienced the mass evacuations and door-to-door killings near Bozoum, in the west of the country.

As soon as I got off the plane I was told that there had been a mass casualty event and they needed me at the hospital. Every house on the way had been burnt during a wave of violence that had swept through the north-west in December, January and February. There had been so many rumours and so much fear that everyone had fled.

We drove quickly into town, not sure what we would find. At the hospital, I was taken to the sickest patient, a man who had been shot. At the time, there were five or six patients. The team told me that they needed to bring the Muslim patients to the hospital: they had not come in because they were too afraid they would be attacked. About an hour later, 18 patients arrived at once.

There were lots of shrapnel injuries from a grenade that had been thrown into the Muslim quarter and gunshot wounds from the shooting that followed.

We had to make a difficult decision about one patient. He had a bullet wound to the groin that had gone through his femoral artery. He wouldn't have survived an operation or a transfer. We hoped that he would live for a couple of days and would clot, so we gave him six units of blood, which was difficult without a blood bank, but he died overnight.

In the Central African Republic, people commemorate the dead overnight with drums. The funeral ground in Bozoum is close to the hospital, so, when you have a death there, the drums don't let you forget that someone has died.

It became clear that people were preparing to leave the Muslim quarter; belongings were piled on the streets.

News had come that a convoy would take people to Chad. Most had lived their whole lives in Bozoum; they had businesses, houses, families and a community there.

About 3,000 people boarded 14 trucks. It was hot, and a seven-hour journey to the border. Although they had an armed escort, it wouldn't stop them coming under attack. There was nothing our team could do. An entire community had been devastated. We knew the same thing was happening across the region.

I left Bozoum soon after. We had to get into the countryside – people were too scared to come to us. Everyone had fled their homes, many of which had been burnt, so they were living in the fields or bush, sleeping on the ground or under trees. Without village wells, they often had to drink from puddles or river water.

Every health post was in a bad state; medicines had been burnt or looted. We heard that people were dying in the bush. In those first few weeks, we felt scared at times, there was still so much violence happening. We would hear rumours and, the next day, go to a village only to find houses still alight.

The attacks were door-to-door. People don't have sophisticated weapons, it is personal violence. It got better as time went on but, at one point, everybody on the street carried some form of weapon. Even small children of six or seven walked around with machetes.

People in the Central African Republic have guns and machetes because many live in the bush and even in the towns they work in fields. It doesn't take much for these to be adapted to the war environment.

Tensions rise and everybody is afraid.

We saw machete or bullet wounds, which get dirty and infected. We saw a lot of patients who had been beaten: you can kill someone with a stick.

Often, people would not tell you how their injuries had happened. I've seen the results of bombs and other, more mechanised violence, but the brutality of face-to-face violence is difficult to handle.

Everybody would tell you who they had lost. In one village, 23 had died in an attack and, a month on, those left were still reliving it.

It is almost impossible to see how and when this desperate situation will end. Violence has affected the whole country. The work of small clinics makes small differences but, together, it adds up to so much more.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Neil Warnock
football'New' manager for Crystal Palace
News
peopleGerman paper published pictures of 18-month-old daughter
Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicKate Bush set to re-enter album charts after first conerts in 35 years
Sport
Angel Di Maria poses with Louis van Gaal after signing for Manchester United
sport
Arts and Entertainment
BBC series 'Sherlock' scooped a hat-trick of awards on the night. Benedict Cumberbatch received the award for Actor, Miniseries or Movie ('Sherlock: His Last Vow') while Martin Freeman won the award for Supporting Actor, Miniseries or Movie. Neither actor was present to collect their awards
tv
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Oracle DBA (Database Administrator, 10g, 11g, PL/SQL)

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum + £5k shift allowance, 12% bonus, benefits: Clearwat...

Oracle DBA (Database Administrator, 10g, 11g, PL/SQL)

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum + £5k shift allowance, 12% bonus, benefits: Clearwat...

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Cover Sup...

IT Teacher September strt with view to permanent post

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: IT...

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis