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Gabon receiving more Congolese (Brazzaville) refugees

Briefing Notes, 20 July 1999

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Kris Janowski to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 20 July 1999, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

More Congolese refugees have arrived in Gabon since the movement was first reported two weeks ago when aid workers, including UNHCR staff and government officials, were able to travel to border areas. Since then the number of arrivals has climbed from 1,500 to an estimated 20,000, affecting six provinces in Gabon.

Fighting in the Republic of Congo worsened late last month and more arrivals are feared after the town of Pointe Noire was reportedly shelled on 17 July. A large majority of the refugees so far are women and children.

UNHCR has distributed limited quantities of emergency aid medical supplies, food and blankets and is arranging for more local food purchases. Staff report that refugees have been taken in by the local population, but that many are sleeping in packed shelters of their own construction, or in the open. Some Congolese are already making their way to urban centres such as Libreville, Port Gentil and Franceville.

One of the most urgent needs is for safe drinking water. UNHCR is planning six wells in several of the main shelter sites and is trying to obtain purification kits for use elsewhere. WHO and UNICEF are preparing to vaccinate the most vulnerable recent arrivals.

Additional UNHCR personnel have arrived in Gabon and more may be sent. The local Red Cross will help with the distribution of relief items, while Médecins Sans Frontières has dispatched a team from Paris to evaluate the refugees' situation.

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Congo's river refugees

More than 100,000 Congolese refugees have crossed the Oubangui River in search of safety in neighbouring Republic of the Congo since inter-ethnic violence erupted in their home areas late last year. They fled from Equateur province in the north-west of Democratic Republic of the Congo after Enyele militiamen launched deadly assaults in October on ethnic Munzayas over fishing and farming rights in the Dongo area. The tensions have spread to other parts of the province.

The majority of the displaced are camping in public buildings and some 100 sites along a 600-kilometre stretch of the Oubangui River, including with host communities. The massive influx is stretching the meagre resources of the impoverished and remote region. Help is urgently needed for both the refugees and the host communities.

The relief operation is logistically complex and expensive because the region can only be reached by plane or boat. However, few boats are available and most are in need of repair. Fuel is expensive and difficult to procure.

Congo's river refugees

Panama's Hidden Refugees

Colombia's armed conflict has forced millions of people to flee their homes, including hundreds of thousands who have sought refuge in other countries in the region.

Along the border with Colombia, Panama's Darien region is a thick and inhospitable jungle accessible only by boat. Yet many Colombians have taken refuge here after fleeing the irregular armed groups who control large parts of jungle territory on the other side of the border.

Many of the families sheltering in the Darien are from Colombia's ethnic minorities – indigenous or Afro-Colombians – who have been particularly badly hit by the conflict and forcibly displaced in large numbers. In recent years, there has also been an increase in the numbers of Colombians arriving in the capital, Panama City.

There are an estimated 12,500 Colombians of concern to UNHCR in Panama, but many prefer not to make themselves known to authorities and remain in hiding. This "hidden population" is one of the biggest challenges facing UNHCR not only in Panama but also in Ecuador and Venezuela.

Panama's Hidden Refugees

Colombia: Life in the Barrios

After more than forty years of internal armed conflict, Colombia has one of the largest populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world. Well over two million people have been forced to flee their homes; many of them have left remote rural areas to take refuge in the relative safety of the cities.

Displaced families often end up living in slum areas on the outskirts of the big cities, where they lack even the most basic services. Just outside Bogota, tens of thousands of displaced people live in the shantytowns of Altos de Cazuca and Altos de Florida, with little access to health, education or decent housing. Security is a problem too, with irregular armed groups and gangs controlling the shantytowns, often targeting young people.

UNHCR is working with the authorities in ten locations across Colombia to ensure that the rights of internally displaced people are fully respected – including the rights to basic services, health and education, as well as security.

Colombia: Life in the Barrios

Uganda: New Camp, New ArrivalsPlay video

Uganda: New Camp, New Arrivals

Recent fighting in eastern Congo has seen thousands of civilians flee to a new camp, Bubukwanga, in neighboring Uganda.
Refugees in Republic of CongoPlay video

Refugees in Republic of Congo

UNHCR struggles to reach isolated groups of refugees who fled inter-ethnic violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than 100,000 are sheltering in neighbouring Republic of Congo.
Refugees in Republic of CongoPlay video

Refugees in Republic of Congo

Tens of thousands of people have reportedly fled a wave of ethnic violence in the north-west of the embattled Democratic Republic of the Congo. The civilians have fled from Equateur province, crossing the Ubangi River and seeking shelter in Republic of the Congo.