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Concern for Sudanese refugees in D.R. Congo

Briefing notes

Concern for Sudanese refugees in D.R. Congo

25 October 2002

UNHCR is very concerned about the situation of more than 17,000 Sudanese refugees in a camp in north - east Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) following the occupation of the site by rebels on Monday (Oct. 21).

Rebels of the Congolese Patriotic Union /Popular Rally (UPC - RP) on Monday moved into the Biringi refugee settlement, 80 km west of the eastern DRC town of Aru. Aru is in the north of Ituri Province, where there has been intense fighting between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups for several months. The UPC rebels, believed to be supporters of the Hema, were said to be retreating northwards on Monday when Lendu fighters blocked their withdrawal. The Lendu blockade sent the UPC rebels into the Biringi settlement and surrounding areas, causing panic among the refugees and the local population who fled into the bush.

By yesterday (Thursday, Oct. 24), there were reports of fighting between the UPC - RP and ethnic Lendu militias 15 km from Biringi, preventing movement to or from Aru. Our staff in Aru have been unable to get to Biringi to assess the refugee situation there. The majority of the refugees in the area are said to be still in hiding.

Sudanese refugees have been in the DRC for the past 12 years. While a few arrived between 1998 and 2000 and still depend on humanitarian assistance, the majority of them are longtime refugees who have integrated into villages where they have reached a level of self - sufficiency. UNHCR assists 41,000 Sudanese refugees in north - east DRC, out of a total population of 75,600.