Congo: DRC escapees abandon Congo settlements
Several thousand refugees who fled the Democratic Republic of Congo over the past months have abandoned settlements in neighbouring Republic of Congo this week as the civil war flared in northern DRC, forcing refugees who had grouped along the Ubangui river to seek safety farther inland.
Around 4,000 of the 22,000 Congolese in camps north of the town of Impfondo scattered into the forest when government forces engaged rebels last week on the opposing bank of the river that separates the two countries. New sites have sprung up about 5 km from the river.
Yesterday, Congolese escaping the latest fighting continued to arrive in RoC in small numbers from Equateur Province in DRC. The refugees told a UNHCR team in the area that they were leaving the town of Imese, which was reclaimed by government troops last week, as well as other villages (Nyela, Itula, Mbombe) in the interior of the DRC. Many of the refugees said they feared renewed offensives. The new arrivals are crossing at night to avoid patrols, and although they are not forced to pay for passage, a shortage of canoes is holding others back, they said.
The fighting on the river has cut refugees off from their two main sources of food. Many Congolese who fled their homes as long as a year ago had previously been able to cope with the displacement by crossing the Ubangui to work their fields under cover of the night, and by continuing to fish in the river. But clashes along the river itself have now largely prevented this.
The insecurity on the Ubangui has also further limited UNHCR's access at a time we are receiving reports of more arrivals at points south of Impfondo. Over an affected border area of approximately 700 km (from Loukolela north to Betou) we now have access to just 120 km around Loukolela and Impfondo. The majority of this remote region, where there are an estimated 40,000 refugees, can only be reached by river.
UNHCR staff are also extremely concerned about conditions in the town of Njoundou. An aid mission Saturday by motorized canoe to Liranga, two hours away from Njoundou, discovered Congolese who told UNHCR they had left Njoundou because of disease and overcrowding. The last UNHCR mission to reach Njoundou, on 1 July, counted 5,200 new refugees and test results have since revealed cases of shigella there. Authorities, however, are strongly advising against travel beyond Liranga, even with armed escorts.
As part of our continuing effort to help the estimated 14,000 refugees in the Impfondo region, UNHCR distributed plastic sheeting, soap, hoes, seeds, high-protein biscuits and jerry cans to 1,200 refugees in Impfondo on Sunday and Monday. Today, staff will work at another site where there are several hundred newly displaced refugees north of the town.