84 000 refugees flee fighting

2009-12-16 11:38

Geneva - About 84 000 destitute villagers from northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo have crossed the border into the Republic of Congo and need aid, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said on Tuesday.

Inter-ethnic violence between two local tribes disputing farming and fishing rights has sparked the exodus. The Enyele and Munzaya tribes are in dispute over farming and fishing rights.

Apart from the refugees in the Republic of Congo, the UNHCR estimated that about 100 000 people have been displaced inside DR Congo.

"Together with our partners, we are trying to cope with the influx but aid reserves are running low as the number of refugees mushrooms and current needs overcome the actual resources," UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said.

"In addition, humanitarian agencies are facing considerable logistical obstacles as the entire refugee population is scattered along a 500km  stretch on the banks of the Oubangui river."

The Oubangui forms the border between the two Congos. The communal violence erupted at the end of October in the northwestern DR Congo town of Dongo between the Enyele, or Lobala, and the Munzaya and Bombona.

Fresh wounds

Kinshasa's regular army early this week retook Dongo and has been reinforced, with backing from UN peacekeepers, and has orders to secure the whole territory.

The UNHCR reported signs of recent violence on arriving refugees. "In the last wave of arrivals, UNHCR staff met people with fresh gunshot wounds, as well as registered nine rape cases, three of whom were girls under 18 years of age."

The refugees "live in overcrowded conditions and the risks of respiratory infections, diarrhoea as well as malaria are high.

"Together with its partners, UNHCR has helped create nine health centres near main refugee concentration areas, which need more medicine and personnel. In addition, we are running several mobile clinics for the more remote areas."

Because there is no clean water, the refugees are using the river. So aid workers are distributing water-purifying tablets to make the water safer for consumption.

Aid agencies have installed six large water bladders with a combined capacity of 60,000 litres in the vicinity of Betou in northern ROC where nearly 55,000 of the new arrivals are now sheltering.

The UNHCR said that some local people have taken refugees into their homes, "sharing their meagre resources." Others have found shelter in public buildings, such as schools.

Relief workers from the UNHCR are planning an assessment mission across the border in the DR Congo's tense Equateur province "as soon as the security conditions permit."

- SAPA
Read more on:    un  |  unhcr  |  drc  |  central africa
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