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DR Congo: 10,000+ flee Equateur fighting

Briefing notes

DR Congo: 10,000+ flee Equateur fighting

18 February 2000

UNHCR is providing assistance to between 10,000 and 15,000 refugees who fled the northern province of Equateur in the DR of Congo and are now scattered along a 400-km stretch of the Oubangui River on the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) side. For the past several weeks, civilians have been fleeing fighting between government troops and the advancing rebel forces of Jean-Pierre Mbemba, who are progressing from the north towards the DRC town Mbandaka.

The refugees have crossed the Oubangui River to seek asylum in the area of Impfondo in Congo Brazzaville. Most of the refugees refer to the rebel forces as "liberators" and say they are fleeing alleged violence and harassment by retreating government troops.

A UNHCR field office has been opened in Impfondo to respond to the needs of this refugee population. Refugees are reported to be dispersed over 400 km of the river. So far, UNHCR has got access to the biggest concentration of refugees, between Impfondo and Dongou, and have registered 10,870 people. Due to the difficult terrain, problems with fuel supplies and increasing insecurity, the UNHCR team has been unable to go beyond Dongou to the northern town of Betou, where thousands of other refugee arrivals have been reported.

In agreement with the authorities in Brazzaville, refugees are not settled in camps. They are hosted by the local population and are supplied by UNHCR with basic items such as plastic sheeting, blankets and fishing nets. Local dispensaries have been supplied with medicines and vaccines for children. Up to now, distribution of food appears unnecessary. The majority of the refugees are fishermen and are largely self-sufficient in food.