The capital of the Central African Republic is usually home to more than 130,000 Muslims, integrated with the rest of the population. Now, fewer than 1,000 remain in the city, the rest having fled amid a veritable pogrom carried out in reprisal for atrocities committed by an alliance of mainly Muslim rebels who had seized power in March 2013.
Those left behind are stuck in ghettos or makeshift camps, protected by African Union troops but still surrounded by units of hostile anti-balaka militiamen.
Their life of fear and deprivation is captured in IRIN’s latest multimedia production: Bangui’s ghettos.
"We can't stay here," says Nass, a community leader taking refuge in the PK-12 neighbourhood on the northern edge of the city, one of the three sites featured in our film.
Nass fled his home in neighbouring PK-13 as violence broke out in December 2013 when anti-balaka forces stormed the capital. "What we really need is to leave here. It's our biggest concern."
“We would rather be killed on the road than here,” Ibrahim Awad, a trader, told visiting Senior Humanitarian Coordinator Abdou Dieng. Nearby, troops from Rwanda and France formed a cordon between the ghetto and an area dense with anti-balaka.
In Kilometre 5 District, a few hundred Muslims live trapped between a roundabout and an intersection. According to the local imam, whose mosque is one of the few in the whole city that is still intact, those venturing outside the area risk being lynched. As a proud Central African citizen, he is outraged that all Muslims are being made to pay for the crimes of the Seleka.
One the most distressing consequences of this isolation is that cemeteries are unreachable. So the dead are buried in backyards or, if unclaimed, collected by the Red Cross.
As Mamadou Lamine prays over the corpses of a friend’s two sons, despair takes hold. “The hatred has become murderous. We no longer have a nation,” he said.
A few hundred Muslims are camped out at the military sector of M’Poko airport (which lies adjacent to the international, civilian sector, itself teeming with thousands of displaced people) hoping against hope for a resumption of evacuation flights.