or Eunice Diba, the trauma is still fresh. The 18-year-old says she was forced to flee at the beginning of March 2014, after fighting broke out in her district in Bangui. “A Muslim killed a Christian and then Christians started killing Muslims,” she explains.


The fighters started going door-to-door. Her husband fled in one direction, she in another. On the way, she stumbled upon her neighbours’ two children. With the chaos ensuing all around her, Diba says she wasn’t sure if their parents were dead or alive. She took the children with her. After walking to the port in Bangui, she took a boat, paying 1500 CFA, the equivalent of $3, for her own passage.


The boatsmen took pity on her and allowed her to transport her daughter, younger sister and her neighbour’s two children across the border without charge. Once she arrived in Libenge, she started looking for her only friend in the town. It took some time, but when she found Esile Blandine, a 22-year-old Congolese woman who often came to Bangui on business and was herself a refugee in CAR several years before, she found a home.


Blandine says the decision to open her home to her friend was not difficult: “I often went to Bangui and she looked after me there. I had no choice but to take her in. She fled war, after all,” she said.


Diba is now looking after her neighbour’s children, and still has no idea of the whereabouts of their parents.

lmost half of the 60,000 CAR refugees forced to flee to DRC, now live with host families in the towns of Zongo and Libenge and their surrounding areas. Connections between the communities on either side of the border date back decades and even transcend generations. It is after all just the river separating Zongo and Libenge from the CAR.


Traders in Zongo have opened their homes to their business contacts forced to leave Bangui. Others have welcomed refugees just to demonstrate solidarity with those facing trouble on the other side.


There are many cases of refugees now staying with Congolese families in Zongo and Libenge, whom they once hosted in Bangui during various conflicts in DRC over the past two decades. Now, former refugees have become hosts.

The shock of such radically changing circumstances has, according to MSF, left many battling mental health problems. The NGO reports that sleeping disorders, anxiety and other ailments have become more common.


The president of the refugee committee at the Mole camp, Wilfred Pani, says the young adults are proving particularly difficult to manage. “Their predicament poses a threat to the camp, even the host communities outside,” he warns.


Those used to the bustle of CAR’s capital are growing bored and restless. And that, say officials, can be dangerous. The UN has started building a cyber café in an effort to restore a semblance of normalcy for youth cut off from their homeland and the rest of the world.


Their stories:






he Mole refugee camp, on the outskirts of DRC’s Zongo, is now home to some 9,000 refugees from CAR. Profiles of the refugees vary, with rural and urban settlers from different backgrounds and fortunes now living side by side in the camp.


Due to the proximity to Bangui, the capital of CAR, which has seen an outflow of residents since the conflict began in March 2013, there are thousands of urban youth now living in the camp, frustrated at their predicament.


Many were university students before the conflict forced them to flee; they’re now struggling to come to grips with living in the hinterlands of DRC, without electricity, running water or a mobile phone network.


When the Mamie family returned, their original house was still standing but the UNHCR built another home for them. It is this second home that the Mamie family offered to the Nbengu family when they arrived.


A month later, the Mamies heard that another person was searching for them. It was 65-year-old Veronique Mbupama, Nbengu’s mother-in-law and the woman who had hosted the Mamies in CAR. Unaware that her daughter and son-in-law had already sought refuge there, locating the Mamies provided even greater comfort than she could have hoped for.


Sitting in the shade of the lush mango and palm trees outside her adopted home, the wrinkled and visibly tired Mbupama explains: “I didn't know where else to go, so I came to find them.”

enri Nbengu, 35, was shot in the knee by bird shot pellets during a round of fighting between anti-balaka and Seleka militia at the height of tensions in December. “There were bodies everywhere,” he says. “I have never seen anything like it.” He fled with his family and says:

“We took nothing with us because we didn’t think it would last that long.” They first went to Bimba, a town in DRC, and then to Libenge where Nbengu sought out a family who had stayed with his mother-in-law during the 2009-2010 conflict in DRC. He hoped the family, the Mamies, would return the gesture. They did.

Yangunde Mamie says that when they received news that a family from Bangui was looking for them, “We were surprised, but when we found out who they were, we were very happy to host them”. The Mamie family remembered the kindness they had been shown when they spent almost two years living as refugees in CAR.


"When we left, this village was empty, people were also killing with machetes then," Mamie recalls. As part of the repatriation incentives offered to refugees from DRC living in CAR and elsewhere, the UNCHR built new homes for those families willing to return.


The UN says that being hosted by a local family rather than living in a camp full of strangers helps many refugees to better deal with the trauma they have experienced.


“This cohabitation and normal setting often helps refugees lead as normal a life as possible,” explains Celine Schmitt, the UNHCR's senior regional external relations officer.


Often, where there is continued fear and insecurity, especially when there is a religious or ethnic element to a conflict, many refugees have opted to stay with a host or in a host community, believing this provides an added layer of protection.


The hospitality on show is striking, with many sharing what little they have. Stories abound of local families changing their consumption habits so that the visitors might be able to eat the limited food cultivated on their farms. Living rooms of modest homes have become bedrooms as plastic and straw mats take over the gravel floors to host entire families. Few here suffer selective amnesia; they are too familiar with the ordeal.

The war

At the heart of this disaster are the lives of ordinary people whose worlds were turned upside down. Children have lost their parents, farmers are separated from their beloved lands and students sit idly in refugee camps terrified of relinquishing their futures.

The hosts


No ordinary life

Eunice Diba


Henri Nbegu


The students





The war across the river