The Congos: improved security, more access
After several months, UNHCR staff have benefited from improved security and gained more access over the past week to most of the estimated 100,000 Congolese refugees in the northern Congo Republic (ROC).
Most of the 800-km stretch of the Congo and Ubangui Rivers has been off limits to humanitarian workers since March this year, when troops from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) detained UNHCR and NGO personnel. Congolese rebels and government forces have clashed repeatedly on the border river, making missions to remote, refugee-hosting areas impossible.
The 10 UNHCR emergency staff deployed to northern ROC have now conducted missions and have distributed relief aid to all areas except for a 150-km stretch on the Ubangui River between Njoundou and Impfondo. An estimated 25,000 refugees are believed to have crossed into this zone in the past several months.
Refugees in the areas reached so far are badly in need of shelter materials, household items, farming or fishing implements and medical care. Some have tried to regain their farms in the DRC, crossing back and forth, while others are trying to cultivate land around their settlements.
On Saturday, UNHCR sent a barge upriver from Brazzaville carrying 400 tons of relief material for 55,000 refugees. It is expected to reach Loukolela by the end of the week before continuing to Njoundou and Impfondo.
Although fighting between rebels and Kinshasa forces is reported to be continuing in some areas of Equateur Province, ROC authorities have given assurances for escorted travel on the river in view of the improved security.