Dane in Central African Republic: “I felt in danger”

Dennis Christian Larsen was one of the Danes trapped in the Central African Republic when riots broke out last month; he is now home but will soon go to work in Cameroon

On March 24, the insurgent group Seleka took over the capital of the Central Africa Republic (CAR), Bangui, forcing President François Bozize to flee the country. In the aftermath, three Danes were trapped in a UN compound, unable to leave due to ensuing riots. One of them was Dennis Christian Larsen, who works for UNICEF and has lived in CAR since August 2011.

Along with about 300 other international employees, he was escorted out of Bangui by the French military on March 25. He left the CAR the following morning for neighbouring Cameroon before returning to Denmark last Sunday.

He told The Copenhagen Post that it was a harrowing experience.

“I felt in danger and even at the UN compound I felt unsafe. I was hoping for the best but prepared for the worst,” Larsen said. “I could hear constant gunfire but the worst was the looting. Several of my colleagues have lost their homes and possessions.”

Seleka rebels in a trashed office in the presidential building (Photo: Scanpix)

Larsen lived and worked in CAR on a permanent basis with his partner. In December 2012, the government received a threat from Seleka and many UN employees and their families were sent home. Larsen barely made it back to Denmark for Christmas, as he was trapped in the French embassy while working on his paperwork. He was able to get out of the CAR when the French military intervened against demonstrators who were attacking French institutions.

Larsen returned to the CAR in January but his partner decided to stay in Denmark due to the disturbances. He remained hopeful that the situation could improve and continued his humanitarian as conditions worsened up to the governmental overthrow in March.

He is now unsure if he can ever go back. 

“When I moved to the CAR I had a container transport all my possessions, so everything is in my house there. But I am not certain that I will ever be able to return to my home. I am not certain of much actually,” Larsen said.

Larsen still has friends and colleagues in the CAR and they have told him that looting is still plaguing Bangui and that it is difficult to find food as the supermarkets have been emptied. Most of his acquaintances have isolated themselves and keep a low profile as the situation is still not under control.

Right now he is back in Denmark but is planning on going to Cameroon on April 24. His work for UNICEF will continue from here until he finds out if he can go back to the CAR.

UNICEF says it will continue fighting for children's rights in the Central African Republic (Private photo)

“The worst is the disappointment. Everything we have worked for is ruined. We have set up schools and hospitals and now these are destroyed or abandoned, but I am ready to keep fighting to improve the situation,” Larsen said. “The CAR is one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises. It is a tough job but I want to help.”

Larsen is excited to get started again and hopes that UNICEF and the UN will be able to negotiate with the new government so that humanitarian services can people with necessary help.

UNICEF estimates that about 4.1 million people are affected by the disturbances and are now in need of assistance, but lootings of the humanitarian supplies make the task difficult. According to a press release, they hope that the new government will prioritise improving living standards, particularly for children.