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People With Disabilities at Risk in Central African Republic

File--In this April 14, 2014 photo, Hamamatou Harouna, 10, crawls to the restroom on the grounds of the Catholic Church where she and hundreds of others found refuge in Carnot, Central African Republic. Human Rights Watch says people with disabilities in Central African Republic are at high risk during attacks and forced displacement, facing neglect in an ongoing humanitarian crisis. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Simplice Lenguy told his wife to leave him behind as people fled when fighting broke out in Central African Republic's capital.

"I said, 'Take the children. You go to the camp. I am handicapped. I can't flee like the others. If something happens to me, at least my family will be safe,'" Lenguy, who is disabled from polio, recounted in an interview with The Associated Press. His wife refused and forced him to come with her, even when he lost consciousness because of the pain.

For years Central African Republic has seen widespread violence that has displaced more than 500,000 people. This week at least 100 people were killed in fighting in the town of Bria. Those with disabilities are a "forgotten people within a forgotten crisis" at high risk during attacks and forced displacement, facing neglect in an ongoing humanitarian crisis, according to Lewis Mudge, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, which released a report this week on their challenges.

The country has faced deadly violence since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the capital, Bangui. Mostly Christian anti-Balaka militias fought back, resulting in thousands of people killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.

It is not known how many of the displaced are people with disabilities, but Human Rights Watch said conditions at camps are not conducive for them. Some have trouble getting food during distributions, while others have challenges using showers and toilets that lack ramps.

The new report said one man with a physical disability was killed in November 2014 while trying to crawl away from attacking Seleka fighters in the town of Bolo. And when anti-Balaka forces attacked the village of Ngbima the same month, they killed 28 civilians, including a 25-year-old woman with a bad foot who could not move quickly. She was burned alive inside her home, said the report.

With half of Central Africa Republic's population in need of humanitarian assistance, Mudge said people with disabilities do not get the "protection and assistance they desperately need."

Human Rights Watch called on the U.N. peacekeeping mission and other U.N. agencies to monitor and report abuses against people with disabilities and commit resources to improving humanitarian aid.

In 2015, the U.N. Security Council's mandate for the peacekeeping mission expressed "serious concern about the dire situation of persons with disabilities in the CAR including abandonment, violence and lack of access to basic services." However, when the mandate was renewed by the U.N. Security Council in 2016, no language on people with disabilities was included.

The human rights chief for the U.N. peacekeeping mission had "no statement" on why the language wasn't included. However, Musa Yerro Gassama said the U.N. continues to work on the issue with aid groups.

Central African Republic's government doesn't have the capacity to support people with disabilities, Mudge said. And U.N. officials say humanitarian funding for the country is only at 28 percent.

Once Lenguy recovered from his journey to the camp for those displaced in Bangui, he started organizing others with disabilities into a group to demand more aid. They seek support to replace lost canes and tricycles, rebuild homes and provide vocational assistance.

Despite the challenges, the 40-year-old Lenguy said he's "very optimistic." He said he wants people with disabilities to have a role in the government and play a role in their country's future.

"We, people with disabilities, are ready to help the country to develop," he said.


(c) 2017 Associated Press

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