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.