DRC refugees won't go home

2010-05-28 10:56

Congo - Tens of thousands of refugees from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are refusing to leave deteriorating conditions in camps in neighbouring Congo Republic due to fears of attacks by the army back home.
Relief organisations estimate that some 120 000 civilians from the DRC fled fighting in the remote Equateur province late last year, crossing into the other, former French, Congo.

They remain there despite poor conditions, an end to clashes and appeals for them to go home.

"We fled insecurity so how can we be expected to go back to insecurity?" said Janvier Iguena, 42, who left DRC with his eight children and two wives and is now the head of the refugee delegation in Betou, Congo Republic.

"Some of us who tried to return home were attacked by the army, some of our wives were raped by them," he said.

"No - there is no question of us going back straight away unless there are guarantees for our safety," he told a Reuters reporter who travelled to the town some 1 000 km north of the capital Brazzaville this week.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has strongly denied accusations of army attacks on civilians in the area.

Aid workers have struggled to reach the refugees, who are spread out across inaccessible bush regions where the borders of the two Congos and Central African Republic meet.

Lack of funds

Three months of food for some 50 000 of the most vulnerable was handed out in February. The remaining refugees and their host communities also received fishing kits and farming equipment to help them get by.

"(The situation) is worrying because we have not been able to help all the refugees due to the lack of money and especially the problems linked to the water levels - the lack of water means we cannot ship aid in bulk (up the river)," said Daniel Roger Ntam, local head of the UN refugee agency.

Congo is recovering from decades of war and chaos, with investors excited over the vast untapped mineral and oil reserves but the government still having to contend with a plethora of rebellions across the vast, fractious state.

As with most of the millions of deaths during the DRC's years of conflict, it is living conditions in the bush, as much as the the fighting itself, that take the greatest toll.

In some locations along the Oubangui river, refugees have resorted to drinking the muddy brown water and children have fallen ill. Sleeping without any form of shelter, many others have caught malaria.

The refugees fled fighting that erupted in Equateur last October. The conflict, initially between communities clashing over fishing rights, spread last month when local Enyele ethnic rebels seized a provincial airport.

Although they were defeated after several days of fighting, the violence highlighted the Congolese army's continued dependence on United Nations peacekeepers, despite the government's plans for them to soon start leaving the country.

Diplomats fear the weak government forces, which are widely accused of committing abuses, will be unable fill the gap left by the world body's soldiers, who number some 22 000 in the former Belgian colony.