Chapter VIII: Persecution


Victims of war and people displaced by violence are not necessarily neutral when it comes to politics. Most have suffered traumatic experiences at the hands of the perpetrators of the violence. However, often people put the blame not on one particular group, faction or militia, but on the war itself, the war that no one is able to stop and whose crimes remain unpunished.

We’re at a camp for displaced people in Basara, in the north of Central African Republic. Around 3,000 people are living here in huts made from palm leaves. Despite the situation they’re in, there are few complaints. People seem relieved just to have survived.  Most displaced people we’ve met escaped the war at its peak, from 2013-14, but this camp is different; the people here arrived just a short time ago.

Many of the families here have been displaced several times. Displaced twice, three times. Violence has followed them from one place to the next, although the perpetrators have been from different armed groups.

These are the living conditions in camp at Basara. | Anna Surinyach

Take Ashta Ahmad, a 21-year-old Muslim woman. The first time she fled with her husband and five children was in August 2015, when she left Kalkuda and went to Batangafo as a result of fighting between the Christian anti-Balaka militias and the Muslim Séléka coalition. Three months ago, fighting broke out in Batangafo, this time between rival factions in the Séléka coalition, so she fled again. “The situation is really difficult here,” says Ashta. “My husband goes to the camp to work for local people, and I go looking for firewood. But I feel safer here. We’re not going to move for the time being.”

Or take Ester Asalta, a 40-year-old Muslim woman and mother of seven. Like Ashta, she is from Kalkuda. In 2012, she fled the area due to fighting between Christian and Muslim militias. On the journey, her husband was shot and killed by armed men, but she managed to escape unharmed.

Ester is displaced and widowed. She’s fighting for survival.  | Anna Surinyach

Three months ago, Ester – like so many others in this camp –was forced to flee the war again, this time fleeing clashes between rival Séléka factions. She feels calmer now because her seven children are safe. However, she says that the relationship with the local community is difficult: she works hard in the camp, but they tell her that she doesn't do things properly. To add to the tension, there’s only one well and it's in the village, not in the camp. This creates animosity between the local community and the displaced people. “They also need it,” says Ester. “Water is the problem!” says one of her neighbours on overhearing the conversation.

But despite everything, Ester insists that her life is better than it was before. “I don’t know if the fighting will reach here, but if it does, I’ll carry on moving until I reach a peaceful place,” she says. “I don’t think I can stay in a place where there’s violence.”

A boy sleeps on a mat in the camp at Basara | Anna Surinyach

Wherever there is fighting, people are displaced from their homes. Another battle, another wave of displacement. Year after year after year. Ashta, Ester: persecuted by the war, moving from town to town in this forgotten African country.