The United Nations satellite agency, UNITAR, has published the image below, showing the number of tents and other structures in Bangui’s M’Poko airport. UNITAR says the photograph shows the following:

“As of 22 February 2014 approximately 7,789 structures were detected. Imagery from 6 June shows an important decrease in the number of tent shelters present inside of the airport since an extensive area has been significantly cleared of shelters. As of 6 June UNOSAT detected a total of approximately 3193 tent shelters and 61 administrative support and other structures. Compared to previous UNOSAT analysis the number of shelters has decreased by 58.7%. This is a preliminary analysis and has not yet been validated in the field.” But what does this really mean? Having spoken to aid workers in Bangui the reduction in structures may not be as positive as the raw data would suggest.

Bangui airportAid workers suggest the number of displaced people in Bangui airport has fallen sharply. It is down from 120,000 at its peak, to about 20 – 30,000 today. But the reason most people have left is critical. “They have gone because the aid agencies, co-ordinated by UNOCHA, have refused to give them anything while they are in the airport,” one contact told me. “They don’t want people on the airport, which they want to expand to bring in bigger planes.”

After not receiving aid for the last 7 months many people have had little option but to pack up and go home. The people at the airport are almost exclusively Christians. Agencies also believe that some are anti-Balaka supporters, who may have been involved in the religious killings of recent months.

Certainly most Muslims – blamed for supporting the Seleka rebels – have fled from Bangui. A handful – perhaps 2 – 5,000 remain, under French and UN protection. Only about 10% of the total Muslim population in the West of the CAR are still in the country – sheltering in churches in the West, guarded by peacekeepers. The enclaves are protected by African Union troops belonging to MISCA.

Large areas have been ethnically (or, more accurately, religiously) cleansed. Many Muslims moved from the West to the Eastern half of the country, with some areas now having a Muslim majority.

Since many Muslims were traders their departure has left a huge hole in local economies. Banditry and lawlessness is rife. So too is the spread of disease, with malaria now rampant in the rainy season.