Central African refugees moved to safer site, in face of LRA attack risks

Briefing Notes, 27 August 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 27 August 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

This week UNHCR began transferring an estimated 1,500 Central African refugees scattered along a remote part of the Congolese border with the Central African Republic (CAR) to a newly constructed refugee camp, some 70 kilometers inside the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). These refugees had fled attacks by the Ugandan rebel group, the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), between March and May this year and found shelter in several, isolated border villages in Bas-Uélé district in northern DRC.

The objective of this transfer has been to improve safety for the refugees by reducing the risk of new LRA attacks. In addition to protection and shelter, the new camp also allows provision of safe drinking water and better humanitarian access.

Difficult access conditions in places where the refugees have been settled, has meant that many have had to move to the new camp by foot. Together with the Congolese authorities, we have set up way stations and a transit centre along the route where refugees get cooked meals. The most vulnerable are being transported on motorbikes.

The rocky terrain of the new site, at Kpala-Kpala, has posed challenges in establishing the camp. In June and July UNHCR and its partners constructed emergency shelters and latrines as well as several water points. On arrival at the camp, all refugees are registered and receive food and other aid. The operation is run in close cooperation with UNHCR's partners and other UN aid agencies.

According to UN estimates, LRA attacks in the Central Africa Republic have forced some 15,000 people to flee their homes this year alone. Most remain internally displaced. Due to the logistical challenges of reaching refugees along the CAR-DRC border, we fear there may be others beyond our reach.

The LRA has been active in parts of CAR since 1993 (and since 1986 in Uganda) and has left a trail of killings and mayhem and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in the DRC and other neighbouring countries. Since December 2008, the LRA has displaced some 280,000 people in DRC's Haut and Bas-Uélé districts and forced nearly 20,000 Congolese to seek refuge in Sudan and the CAR.