“While it is difficult to establish the precise figures, reliable sources have stated that numbers [of children] involved are in the hundreds and appear to be escalating,” UNICEF said in a news release. “UNICEF calls on all parties to the conflict, leaders and community members to ensure that children are protected from the harmful impact of armed conflict and do not participate in hostilities,” it added. Last month, the agency had reported that at least 175 boys, between the ages of 12 and 18, were directly associated with armed groups in the north, where fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels broke out in January. The insecurity resulting from the renewed clashes, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region and political instability in the wake of a military coup d’état in March, have led over 250,000 Malians to flee to neighbouring countries. Some 174,000 Malians are estimated to be internally displaced. The recruitment and use of children under the age of 18 by armed groups is prohibited by international law, and constitutes a war crime and crime against humanity if children are recruited and used under the age of 15. UNICEF also warned of the deteriorating conditions in northern Mali, where the malnutrition rate is among the highest in the country. Schools have been closed for much of the year and cholera has surfaced along the Niger River. “Community coping mechanisms are being stretched to the extreme and risk failure, with negative consequences for children and women,” UNICEF said, adding that it has received only 28 per cent of the $58 million it seeks for an emergency appeal to help Malian children this year.
Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva that 474 members of the Peuhl ethnic group had been trapped for several months in the town of Yaloke, 200 kilometres northwest of the capital city of Bangui, where they were now facing dire humanitarian conditions. Adults and children had become severely malnourished and more than 30 per cent were suffering from malaria, he noted, adding that there were also six known cases of tuberculosis. In addition, he warned, since their arrival in Yaloke in April, 42 people among the group had died, while others were becoming weaker by the day.“Despite the presence of international forces, the group at Yaloke is still subject to recurrent threats, verbal and physical aggression, and looting by anti-Balaka militias,” said Mr. Edwards. “Urgent humanitarian assistance is needed along with help in relocating them to safer places, either inside the Central African Republic or to neighbouring countries.” He added that today, the displaced Peuhl are the only Muslims still in Yaloke, and they are confined to an overcrowded site for the internally displaced.“They cannot go beyond a 500 metre perimeter because of the dangers. This means that they cannot seek safety elsewhere but it also impedes them from securing a livelihood or seeking other help.”On 18 December, a UNHCR team had visited the Peuhl in an effort to assess the situation and had been confronted with more than 90 per cent of the group members expressing the desire to seek refuge in neighbouring countries such as Cameroon and Chad.“People pleaded for assistance with vehicles and security to help them leave the country. Others wanted to be relocated away from Yaloke which is no longer considered viable,” said Mr. Edwards.More than two years of civil war and sectarian violence have displaced thousands of people in the CAR. According to UNHCR estimates, nearly 440,000 people remain displaced inside the country while some 190,000 have sought asylum across the borders. At the same time, more than 36,000 people – including the Peuhl – remain trapped in enclaves across the country, hoping to find asylum in neighbouring states.Earlier this month, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous warned of a potentially explosive situation in the CAR amid continuing violent clashes between the mainly Muslim Séléka alliance and anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian.The UNHCR spokesperson noted that the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) was playing “a key role in protecting people and had prevented numerous acts of violence” but, he cautioned, the situation was now “becoming worse by the day” and “immediate action” was necessary to help transport the Peuhl to safety.