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Some 84,000 Congolese flee inter-ethnic violence in Equateur province


Some 84,000 Congolese flee inter-ethnic violence in Equateur province

Tens of thousands of Congolese civilians flee to the Republic of Congo to escape inter-ethnic violence in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo.
15 December 2009
Refugees from Equateur province wait for aid at a site near Betou in the Republic of Congo.

BETOU, Republic of Congo, December 15 (UNHCR) - Tens of thousands of Congolese civilians have fled to the Republic of Congo (ROC) to escape inter-ethnic violence in recent weeks in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with more on the way.

According to ROC government estimates, some 84,000 refugees from troubled Equateur province have fled to the Republic of Congo since early November, after the Enyele and Munzaya tribes clashed over farming and fishing rights.

A further 100,000 people may have been internally displaced in the province, which remains tense. Government troops have reportedly regained control over several areas, including the flashpoint of Dongo. UNHCR is planning an assessment mission to this area as soon as security conditions permit.

Some of the new arrivals in the ROC told UN refugee agency staff that they fled their homes following the news that Enyele militiamen had launched an attack in the Dongo area in late October, killing and wounding scores of people, and were now advancing towards Gemena, located some 200 kilometres north of Dongo.

Others came from the fighting areas or said they were afraid of the DRC government's counter-offensive. In the latest wave of arrivals, UNHCR staff met people with fresh gunshot wounds. They also registered nine rape cases, including three girls aged under 18 years.

"Together with our partners, we are trying to cope with the influx, but aid reserves are running low as the number of refugees mushrooms and current needs overcome the actual resources," a UNHCR spokesperson said on Tuesday. "In addition, humanitarian agencies are facing considerable logistical obstacles as the entire refugee population is scattered along a 500-kilometre stretch on the banks of the Oubangui River," he added.

These refugees live in crowded conditions and the risks of respiratory infections, diarrhoea and malaria are high. Together with its partners, UNHCR has helped create nine health centres near the main concentrations of refugees. The agency is also operating several mobile clinics for people in the more remote areas.

Due to a lack of clean water, the refugees are using the river for their needs, which is another major health risk. "We are distributing water-purifying tablets to make the water safer for consumption. Aid agencies have installed six large water bladders with a combined capacity of 60,000 litres in the vicinity of Betou, in northern ROC, where nearly 55,000 of the new arrivals are now sheltering," the UNHCR spokesperson said.

The massive presence of refugees from the DRC is also putting pressure on the local communities, some of whom are hosting people in their homes, sharing their meagre resources. Other refugees have found shelter in public buildings - such as in the village of Monzombo in the Betou area where eight classrooms of a local school are being used as shelter, making it difficult for the local children to attend classes.

Following the allocation of land by the local authorities, UNHCR has started building a new camp site in the Betou area where some of the refugees will be moved to.

By Boubacar Ben Diallo in Betou, Republic of Congo