Chapter VII: Committee


Refugees and people displaced by war are often thought of as people in need of help. We don’t tend to think about them as active participants in the situation, who want to talk about their experiences and come up with possible solutions.

Yet refugees are increasingly pulling together, organising themselves and creating structures to defend their rights. Often these are small groups, out of sight of visitors.

In the town of Kabo, in the north of Central African Republic, there is a camp housing some 4,000 displaced people. When an MSF team visits the settlement, they are met by the Committee for Displaced Persons. The committee is made up of a general secretary, a deputy representative, four advisors, a women’s representative and a youth representative. They receive us in a cavernous meeting room at the entrance to the camp. The general secretary, Hissene Moktard, takes out a letter and ceremoniously begins to read it.

The letter contains courtesies such as:

“We sincerely thank you for having had the courage to travel as far as this camp.”

It contains an analysis of the situation:

“Central African Republic has been affected by a whole host of pressures which have caused a wide variety of social problems. In the total absence of protection, the rural population is facing a very difficult situation.”          

It describes what is happening in the camp:

“Despite the involvement of humanitarian organisations, the displaced people in the camp are all victims of forced displacement and of the theft and destruction of their belongings. For this reason, the displaced people are vulnerable people who find themselves facing extreme poverty.”

The general secretary of Kabo’s Committee for Displaced Persons, Hissene Moktard, in his office. | Anna Surinyach

After reading the letter, the general secretary, who is there to defend the interests of his community, expresses his thanks for MSF’s hospital in the town of Kabo, which offers free medical care just a few kilometres from here. He also requests a health post in the camp itself. Other members of the committee speak and explain that the majority of this Muslim community fled Bangui during the fighting in 2014 and have been here ever since.

“We’re in our homeland,” interrupts the general secretary. “We’re Central Africans – this is our land – but never before have we been displaced like we are now. The government has forgotten about us. We’re relatively okay here, because humanitarian organisations like MSF and others have helped us. And because our community has defended its rights.”