UN seeking critical funding for tens of thousands of Congo refugee

Briefing Notes, 9 March 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 9 March 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR will today be appealing for some $20 million in funding to help it meet the needs of tens of thousands of refugees in Republic of Congo (RoC) who have recently fled ethnic conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo's Equateur Province.

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

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, healthcare and primary education.

The 110,000 refugees are in northern RoC's Likouala province. The vast majority, 82 percent are women and children. They are dispersed in 100 sites in an area extending 600 km along the Oubangui River, further compounding the difficulties for humanitarian agencies in reaching them. Low river levels are preventing movement of heavy cargoes by boat and requiring us 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. 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 program, UNICEF, the World Health organization, UNESCO, the UN Development Programme, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization and the 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.