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UNHCR seeks US$20 million to help tens of thousands of Congolese refugees

News Stories, 9 March 2010

© UNHCR/F.NOY/March 2010
Refugees live in huts made out of leaves in Gouga village, close to the border between the Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

GENEVA, March 9 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency appealed on Tuesday for some US$20 million in funding to help it meet the needs of tens of thousands of civilians who have fled ethnic conflict in Democratic Republic of the Congo's Equateur province and sought shelter in neighbouring Republic of Congo.

"UNHCR's request is part of a broader appeal by UN agencies, who have so far received only US$17.3 million of the nearly US$59 million required this year for this crisis. We hope that donors will respond generously," UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told journalists in Geneva.

"Our concern is that four months into their exile, the refugees are still lacking basic humanitarian aid, despite our efforts. So far we've been able to cover just 30 per cent of the needs of this huge population for food, sanitation, shelter, health care and primary education," she added.

About 110,000 Congolese refugees have fled the ethnic violence in Equateur, crossed the Oubangui River and found shelter in northern Republic of Congo's (ROC) Likouala province since late last year. The vast majority, 82 per cent, are women and children.

They are dispersed in 100 sites in an area extending 600 kilometres along the Oubangui, further compounding the difficulties for humanitarian agencies in reaching them. Low river levels are preventing movement of heavy cargoes by boat and requiring UNHCR to ferry supplies in limited quantities or to fly them in.

"These funds are needed to increase our overall protection and logistical capacity for the operation. The funds will also be used to provide primary education for more than 20,000 refugee children, to supply more shelter, to procure additional relief items, to improve access to health and to expand sanitation," UNHCR's Fleming said. "The provision of clean water is also urgently required to curb water-related diseases common among the population who resort to drinking from the river."

UN partners in this appeal include the World Food Programme, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization, UNESCO, the UN Development Programme, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

The refugees fled from Equateur province after fighting started in late October last year when Enyele militiamen launched deadly assaults on ethnic Munzayas over fishing and farming rights in the Dongo area. The tensions have since expanded to most parts of Equateur province, which drove an additional 18,000 refugees to flee to the Central African Republic.

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Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

A funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations in refugee camps in eastern Chad by up to 60 per cent. As a result, Sudanese refugees in 13 camps in the east now receive about 850 calories per day, down from the minimum ration of 2,100 calories daily they used to get. The refugees are finding it difficult to cope. Clinics in the area report a significant spike in malnutrition cases, with rates as high as 19.5 per cent in Am Nabak camp.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

In the meantime, the refugees experiencing ration cuts have few options. Poor soil quality, dry conditions and little access to water mean they can't plant supplemental crops as refugees in the less arid south of Chad are able to do. To try to cope, many refugee women in eastern Chad are leaving the camps in search of work in surrounding towns. They clean houses, do laundry, fetch water and firewood and work as construction labourers. Even so, they earn very little and often depend on each other for support. In the town of Iriba, for example, some 50 refugee women sleep rough each night under a tree and share their some of their meagre earnings to pay for a daily, communal meal.

They are also subject to exploitation. Sometimes, their temporary employers refuse to pay them at the end of the day. And some women and girls have resorted to prostitution to earn money to feed their families.

Ration cuts can have an impact far beyond health, reverberating through the entire community. It is not uncommon for children to be pulled out of school on market days in order to work. Many refugees use a portion of their food rations to barter for other essentials, or to get cash to pay school fees or buy supplies for their children. Small business owners like butchers, hairdressers and tailors - some of them refugees - also feel the pinch.

WFP supplies food to some 240,500 Sudanese refugees in the camps of eastern Chad. Many have been in exile for years and, because of their limited opportunities for self-sufficiency, remain almost totally dependent on outside help. The ration cuts have made an already difficult situation much worse for refugees who were already struggling.

Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

Since January 2014, a funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations by 60 per cent in refugee camps in southern Chad. The reduction comes as thousands of refugees from Central African Republic (CAR) continue to arrive in the south - more than 14,000 of them since the beginning of 2014. Many arrive sick, malnourished and exhausted after walking for months in the bush with little food or water. They join some 90,000 other CAR refugees already in the south - some of them for years.

The earlier refugees have been able to gain some degree of self-reliance through agriculture or employment, thus making up for some of the food cuts. But the new arrivals, fleeing the latest round of violence in their homeland, are facing a much harsher reality. And many of them - particularly children - will struggle to survive because WFP has also been forced cut the supplemental feeding programmes used to treat people trying to recover from malnutrition.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

Photojournalist Corentin Fohlen and UNHCR Public Information Officer Céline Schmitt visited CAR refugees in southern Chad to document their plight and how they're trying to cope.

New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

UNHCR and Partners Tackle Malnutrition in Mauritania Camp

The UN refugee agency has just renewed its appeal for funds to help meet the needs of tens of thousands of Malian refugees and almost 300,000 internally displaced people. The funding UNHCR is seeking is needed, among other things, for the provision of supplementary and therapeutic food and delivery of health care, including for those suffering from malnutrition. This is one of UNHCR's main concerns in the Mbera refugee camp in Mauritania, which hosts more than 70,000 Malians. A survey on nutrition conducted last January in the camp found that more than 13 per cent of refugee children aged under five suffer from acute malnutrition and more than 41 per cent from chronic malnutrition. Several measures have been taken to treat and prevent malnutrition, including distribution of nutritional supplements to babies and infants, organization of awareness sessions for mothers, increased access to health facilities, launch of a measles vaccination campaign and installation of better water and sanitation infrastructure. Additional funding is needed to improve the prevention and response mechanisms. UNHCR appealed last year for US$144 million for its Mali crisis operations in 2013, but has received only 32 per cent to date. The most urgent needs are food, shelter, sanitation, health care and education.

The photographs in this set were taken by Bechir Malum.

UNHCR and Partners Tackle Malnutrition in Mauritania Camp

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