Since 2013, the Central African Republic has been ravaged by a civil war between the Muslim Seleka movement and the Christian anti-balaka (“anti-machete”) militias. Both sides have committed massacres and other atrocities, killing thousands and driving hundreds of thousands from their homes.
So Father Bernard Kinvi was putting himself at great risk when he began sheltering wounded Christians and Muslims alike at his small mission hospital in Bossemptele. The danger became even greater when the Seleka were ousted in January 2014 and the anti-balaka began converging in force on his community as part of their mission to wipe out the country’s Muslims once and for all.
Over the course of several months, Kinvi gave sanctuary to thousands of Muslim refugees at his mission, despite constant threats from the anti-balaka. At one point there were 1,500 Muslims under his protection. Kinvi also made regular trips to look for hidden refugees or bury bodies, despite the fact that he didn’t even have access to a car of his own (the Seleka had stolen it on their way out). There were occasional truck convoys that took Muslims to safety, but otherwise he received little official aid and often had to feed the refugees from his own stores.
The majority of the refugees in his care were evacuated by April 2014, and violence in the area has significantly abated. But, as Kinvi has stated in interviews, continued tensions mean that conflict could break out again at any time.