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Republic of Congo: UNHCR closes DRC Mbandaka office

Briefing notes

Republic of Congo: UNHCR closes DRC Mbandaka office

5 May 2000

On Sunday, 30 April, UNHCR closed its office in Mbandaka, in the DRC, after flying the last 65 unaccompanied Rwandan refugee children from a centre there to Kinshasa. The government had cited security concerns in denying international agency staff permission to travel to the city for the past four months.

UNHCR and ICRC hope efforts to trace the families of the children will be improved with the transfer to Kinshasa. The children were the only refugees remaining in Mbandaka from among the thousands who trekked there in 1997. 12,000 Rwandans were repatriated by air that year from the city.

Another 60 unaccompanied minors are being cared for in Mbuyi-Mayi, also near the front lines in the DRC conflict. UNHCR is trying to secure permission for a similar mission to transfer the group to Kinshasa.

Meanwhile UNHCR continues to face enormous logistical and bureaucratic obstacles in trying to reach pockets of DRC refugees in the Impfondo region of the Congo Republic as well as the DRC nationals displaced on the DRC side of the border.

Yesterday, a barge carrying 250 metric tons of aid upriver to an estimated 25,000 refugees near Impfondo, in the Republic of Congo, was stranded on a sandbar by low water levels and had to put in at Njoundou, 250 km short of its goal. The vessel is expected to move in a week's time when the river rises. It took UNHCR 3 months to obtain the authorization from DRC authorities to run the barge. By the time permission came, the water was too low.

The supplies are the first significant relief shipment for the Congolese who began crossing the Ubangui river last fall to escape fighting in the DRC. UNHCR had previously airlifted emergency supplies to Impfondo, but deliveries by river have been hampered by a shortage of fuel. Along with blankets, plastic sheeting and cooking material, the barge is carrying tools, 60 tons of seeds, and fishing nets and hooks to help the largely rural group of refugees.