Central African Republic: UNHCR strongly condemns the kidnapping of Congolese refugees by LRA rebels

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Karin de Gruijl to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is strongly condemning the kidnapping of Congolese refugees by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), asking for an immediate release of those still in captivity.

Last Saturday (21 March), 15 Congolese refugees and one Congolese national were kidnapped by the LRA near the border between the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They were abducted from the DRC side of the border, where they had been tending to their fields. Thirteen of them, 2 women and 11 men, were released two days later and trekked back to the refugee camp near Zemio in the southeast of the Central African Republic. Some of the victims arrived with open wounds and a 16-year old girl had been raped. Three refugee boys are still missing.

Zemio refugee camp hosts some 3,400 Congolese refugees from the Ango Territory (Bas-Uele District), in Province Orientale in northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2009, they had fled LRA atrocities in the Province Orientale and found refuge in the Central African Republic. This week, however, they were once again victim of violence and torture.

Upon their arrival, the released refugees were immediately transferred to the health centre in Zemio where they are receiving the necessary medical care. They are still in shock and anxious to learn about the missing refugees. UNHCR and its partner International Medical Corps have put in place psychosocial counseling sessions to help them cope with this traumatic event.

We will also step up awareness raising efforts to provide refugees with up to date information about the security situation, any LRA activities in the region and the risks associated with moving back and forth across the border, between the camp in the Central African Republic and their fields in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Since the arrest in the Central African Republic of Dominic Ongwen, an LRA top commander accused of crimes against humanity in the beginning of this year, LRA rebels have intensified their attacks on villages at the CAR/DRC border. According to Catholic Relief Services, the LRA has committed over 25 abductions in the month of February in several villages in northeastern DRC, close to Zemio and the border.

The LRA sprung up in Uganda in 1986, established its first base in Sudan in 1993, and spread to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2005, before moving further north into the Central African Republic in 2009. Chased by the Ugandan armed forces, the remaining LRA rebels have pulled back their positions in the forests in southeastern Central African Republic. It continues to wreak havoc and spread terror in the region.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported an increase in LRA attacks in both the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2014. In particular, the number of abductions rose from 346 cases in 2013 to 566 cases in 2014.

More than 180,000 people remain internally displaced in LRA affected areas in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while LRA violence caused more than 30,000 people to flee to the different neighbouring countries (9,232 CAR refugees in the DRC; 3,388 DRC refugees in CAR; and 15,769 DRC refugees and 2,047 CAR refugees in South Sudan).

UNHCR and partners are providing assistance to refugees and are seeking durable solutions for them, including voluntary repatriation. To date some 640 refugees have registered to take part in the upcoming voluntary return programme that will be facilitated by UNHCR. The return programme is expected to start in the coming weeks, once the rehabilitation and extension of the airstrips in Zemio and Ango airstrips have been completed.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Kinshasa, Celine Schmitt on mobile +243 81 700 94 84
  • In Zemio, Charlemagne Kpakpo on mobile+236 72 77 44 06
  • In Geneva, Karin de Gruijl on mobile +41 79 255 9213