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Republic of Congo: UNHCR still pressing for access

Briefing notes

Republic of Congo: UNHCR still pressing for access

25 July 2000

UNHCR is still pressing for access to an estimated 60,000 to 65,000 refugees scattered along a 700-km stretch of the Congo and Ubangui Rivers that form the border between the Republic of Congo (RoC) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Traffic on the rivers - the only way to reach most of the refugees - has been at a standstill for the past weeks due to fighting and insecurity along the DRC side. Affected areas in RoC include north of Loukolela and around Impfondo, which is just opposite Imese in DRC, where fighting erupted recently between rebels and the DRC army.

The inability of aid workers to reach the refugees is especially worrisome in view of estimates from UNHCR medical staff that in the town of Njoundou alone, some 5,000 people out of the estimated 20,000 there are suffering from some kind of ailment. These include respiratory diseases, hepatitis, ear infections, malaria and more than 600 intestinal cases, some of them diagnosed as shigella - a highly contagious type of dysentery that requires treatment by antibiotics and a high-protein intake. Continued access to these refugees is therefore extremely important if we want to avoid further health problems. UNHCR last visited Njoundou on July 8.

Out of the 700-km stretch of river between Loukolela and Betou, UNHCR has access to only 120 km - mostly in restricted areas around Loukolela and Impfondo. This means we can only reach about 14,000 refugees, providing them with shelter, food and agricultural tools.

A UNHCR team is travelling to Brazzaville today to discuss ways of improving access to the isolated refugees along the rivers. More than 20,000 people arrived recently in the Republic of Congo after fighting re-ignited between the rebels and the DRC army in Equateur Province.