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Congo (Brazzaville) refugees into Gabon

Briefing Notes, 6 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 6 July 1999, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The first arrival of Congolese refugees in Gabon was reported this weekend with around 1,500 Congolese crossing into three provinces along a 1,000 km stretch of the border, apparently pushed out by the ongoing fighting and unrest in Congo (Brazzaville).

650 people were reported to have crossed into the southern provinces of Nyanga and Ngounie, with another 800 arriving in Haut OgoouT, to the the north. All the refugees were said to be malnourished and in poor health. Refugees reported that many more Congolese may make their way through forests in search of aid in Gabon.

UNHCR staff, along with personnel from WHO and the Red Cross, left the capital Libreville yesterday for the border. UNHCR is taking first aid supplies and is making arrangements to fly in blankets and purchase food locally.

Gabon becomes the second country to receive refugees from Congo Brazzaville since rival forces reopened the conflict in late 1998. Around 32,000 have fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo from the Pool region, to the south-west of the capital. The new outflow may signal a general deterioration in other parts of the country.

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Public Health

The health of refugees and other displaced people is a priority for UNHCR.

Health crisis in South Sudan

There are roughly 105,000 refugees in South Sudan's Maban County. Many are at serious health risk. UNHCR and its partners are working vigorously to prevent and contain the outbreak of malaria and several water-borne diseases.

Most of the refugees, especially children and the elderly, arrived at the camps in a weakened condition. The on-going rains tend to make things worse, as puddles become incubation areas for malaria-bearing mosquitoes. Moderately malnourished children and elderly can easily become severely malnourished if they catch so much as a cold.

The problems are hardest felt in Maban County's Yusuf Batil camp, where as many as 15 per cent of the children under 5 are severely malnourished.

UNHCR and its partners are doing everything possible to prevent and combat illness. In Yusuf Batil camp, 200 community health workers go from home to home looking educating refugees about basic hygene such as hand washing and identifying ill people as they go. Such nutritional foods as Plumpy'nut are being supplied to children who need them. A hospital dedicated to the treatment of cholera has been established. Mosquito nets have been distributed throughout the camps in order to prevent malaria.

Health crisis in South Sudan

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

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

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