Threatened Muslims Take Refuge in Catholic Church
A church has become the one place of safety for Muslims fleeing from Central African Republic's religious violence, The Associated Press reports.
The Rev. Justin Nary and his colleagues have been caring for 900 Muslims at the Catholic church in Carnot since early February, when Christian militia fighters attacked the town. In the weeks that followed, hundreds more Muslims trekked to the church as word spread in the forests that it was a safe haven.
A Muslim refugee holds a child outside the Catholic church in Carnot on April 15. Those staying here sleep at night inside the church or in tents on the grounds of the compound.
Muslim women pray as others rest at the church in Carnot.
A Muslim refugee listens to a radio in the grounds of the church.
Christian fighters in the area have threatened to burn down the church and have made death threats against the priests who work there. Armed Cameroonian peacekeepers at the compound's gates have so far kept the Christian militants at bay.
A Muslim refugee carrying a child runs through a rainstorm outside the church.
The ongoing instability in the region has prevented many aid groups from arriving, but Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, runs a health clinic at the church.
Muslim refugees gather in a room at the Catholic church decorated with images of Jesus and Mary.
Christian militias have said they are seeking revenge for atrocities committed during rule by Seleka, an alliance of rebel groups. Sectarian violence that exploded in December 2013 has left thousands dead.
Muslim refugees read the Quran at the church.
"Some people have been living there, virtually locked up, for more than three months. They have food, drink and access to health care — thanks to MSF — but they are tired and are aging prematurely," Muriel Masse, the aid group's project coordinator in Carnot, wrote in a recent dispatch.
Hamamatou Harouna, 10, crawls to the restroom on the grounds of the church where she and hundreds of others found refuge.
Nearly half a million children have been displaced in the Central African Republic by violence in the last year, with many hiding out in forests, according to UNICEF.
Muslim refugees look through a gate to see outside the church compound. One Muslim man who recently left the church was gravely wounded by Christian militiamen in town, Rev. Justin Nary said.
Forces from MISCA, the African Union-led peacekeeping mission, guard the Catholic church in Carnot as a herd of goats walks past. Peacekeepers say their mandate is to protect the civilians, not escort them out of the country.
Muslim refugees walk in the rain after prayers.
"When we can, we treat chronic illnesses and minor injuries," wrote Muriel Masse of MSF. "But while they may not be particularly ill, they are battered psychologically."
Light shines through a cross on the Catholic church in Carnot.
French forces trying to stabilize the former colony hope families in Carnot will return to their homes. But few of the Muslims in the church envision a future in Central African Republic.
-- The Associated Press