Geopolitics

Airport Shelter As Chaos Spreads In Central African Republic

A Burundi soldier on the edge of Bangui airport
A Burundi soldier on the edge of Bangui airport
Cyril Bensimon

BANGUI – Bibiane had a dreadful night. As torrents of rain came beating down on the capital of the Central African Republic, this 28-year-old mother, her two children, her parents and her seven brothers and sisters tried in vain to gather under a single canvas sheet, pocked with holes.

Still, compared to the 35,000 to 40,000 people who took refuge in Bangui's airport, Bibiane and her family might almost be considered privileged.

Some managed to find enough space under the wing of a plane carcass or in an abandoned depot, but here, most people have nowhere at all to take shelter.

"I stood there under the rain, without sleeping. I have no words. This place is nothing but suffering," says Pierre who's been living here since Dec. 5. Another man, of an honorable age tells us: "57 of us came from the Baya-kilometer 5 neighborhood to avoid being killed by the Seleka," he said, referring to the government's militia that have been in power since March.

These people didn't wind up here by chance. The site is protected by the French military, which has their base in the airport. The location is strategic: on top of its civil functions, this is where all French helicopters take off from, where the Antonov planes and their cargo of materials land – it is also the entry point into the country for a major part of the contingent of French and African soldiers of the operation "Sangaris" to reinforce the African Union troops already in the country.

The camp is overpopulated, but people keep pouring in. According to the United Nations, a total of 159,000 people have fled their homes in Bangui. Ullrich, a doctor, left Miskine, one of the neighborhoods where the tensions are the highest, and came to the chaotic airport for protection.

"This morning, a colonel from the Seleka killed a taxi driver, and after that young people rebelled. They took machetes and attacked his house," Ullrich explains. "Then a group of young Muslims came to defend the colonel. There was a battle, with guns firing everywhere, even rockets. About an hour after that, the French army intervened."

Sanitary conditions in the camp are appalling. After weeks of occupation, latrines are going to be dug just now. People wash as best they can, with the trickles of water that come out of the pipes. Last week Doctors Without Borders, one of the only organizations on the ground, denounced the lack of action from the UN.

Lindis Hurum, who is in charge of coordinating the NGO's program in the camp, explains that "the situation is very serious, on the edge of catastrophe, and the United Nations can't simply act as if they didn't know what was going on. Women are giving birth under the pouring rain, with nothing...It's absolutely unacceptable that there's no water, no canvas sheets, no blankets and no toilets."

Food first

The statements made by Doctors Without Borders have not gone unanswered by the UN. "I don't want to get into polemics, but we sent food aid to 65,000 in Bangui last week," replies Guy Adoua, Deputy Country Director for the UN's World Food Program.

For the first time since the camp was established around the airport, the agency distributed enough food for three days to 33,000 people. Although the UN wanted the distribution of rice, peas and oil to go smoothly, it ended in chaos.

Tired of waiting for hours, the beneficiaries of this aid decided to take the food themselves. Besides, the location chosen for the distribution was significant: it was done about a kilometer away from the site, away from the French military base.

A power struggle is taking place between humanitarian groups and the Central African authorities over the assistance to the people who have been displaced. "We must stop giving food to those who during the day go and rampage shops belonging to Muslims and help the anti-balaka.," says a counsellor to the president's office, referring to the violent Christian militias.

Under pressure, the UN is now pushing to get the sick and wounded away from the airport. "We didn't distribute canvas sheets, that way we're not settling them there," admits a representative of the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees. But the people from the camp might not approve of these tactics. They reckon that only the close presence of the French army can protect them. In fact, that's why they chose to huddle together in this sprawling cesspool that Bangui's airport has become.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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