For more than half a million people in the Central African Republic the situation is grim indeed. Fighting between rival Christian and Muslim militia have driven these people from their homes. Religious leaders and the handful of aid agencies still working in the country talk of fear and despair.

In the capital, Bangui, over 30,000 have taken shelter around the airport, hoping that the troops guarding the installation will provide them with a measure of security. But they have next to no facilities, poor sanitation and little food.

Laura Jepson, International Medical Corps’ Project Reporting Officer in CAR, spoke of her visit to a site in Boy-Rabe, a neighborhood that has been particularly badly affected by the recent violence:

“The first thing that struck me was the sheer number and density of people in the camp. Every inch of space was taken up; I have never seen anything like it. The next thing was the overwhelming smell – raw sewage combined with the dense smoke of hundreds of wood fires.”

Shops have been looted, mosques and churches demolished in the fighting and at night there are repeated outbreaks of violence. Joris Paulus van Pauwvliet, of MSF Holland, described the situation was still extremely serious. “There are huge numbers of refugees who need support. The situation is still very tense and many people feel they cannot go home, certainly at night it is too unsafe for them.”

The French have 1,600 troops, and the United States began airlifting some 1,200 Burundian forces into the country on Friday. Aid workers report some areas of the capital are now being intensively patrolled, but in others insecurity continues.

Outside of Bangui the situation is far from clear.  There are reports of a battle West of the town of Bossangoa earlier this week, with casualties being treated in the town’s clinic.