Number of Congolese refugees in Republic of Congo passes 100,000 mark

More than 100,000 Congolese refugees have found shelter in the Republic of the Congo since inter-ethnic violence erupted in neighbouring Equateur province late last year.

Women and children find shelter in a village in the Republic of Congo after fleeing from Equateur province.  © UNHCR/B.B.Diallo

BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo, January 12 (UNHCR) - More than 100,000 Congolese refugees have now crossed the Oubangui River and found refugee in the Republic of the Congo since inter-ethnic violence erupted in Equateur province late last year.

UNHCR staff said there was an urgent need for formal camps to be set up to house the more than 107,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and a further 17,000 refugees who have crossed into the Central African Republic, of whom at least 60 per cent are children.

The Congolese refugees in both countries fled from Equateur province in north-west DRC after Enyele militiamen launched deadly assaults in late October on ethnic Munzayas over fishing and farming rights in the Dongo area. The tensions have since spread to other parts of the province. The DRC army has launched an offensive against the Enyele militia.

"There is an acute need for formal refugee sites to be established in both CAR and ROC, as the majority of the DRC refugees occupy public buildings and spaces," a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency said. "This massive influx is severely stretching the meagre resources of this impoverished region, which could lead to tensions with the local community."

In the Central African Republic's Mougoumba region the refugees outnumber the locals by 200 to one, while the Likouala region of northern ROC has seen its population double to more than 200,000.

Although land has been allocated to accommodate 4,000 refugees in Republic of Congo, more space needs to be designated for refugee sites and this is being discussed with the governments of the two host countries. "Meanwhile UNHCR has sent emergency staff to support the widely dispersed refugee communities in this region," the spokesperson said.