More than 16,000 Congolese flee violence and seek shelter in Republic of Congo
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, November 7 (UNHCR) - More than 16,000 civilians have fled ethnic violence in the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), crossing the Oubangui River into neighbouring Republic of Congo after their villages were torched last week.
A UNHCR team is now visiting them and says the 16,100 Congolese asylum-seekers need proper shelter, food and household items such as blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans. Once a thorough assessment is made, the refugee agency will work with the Republic of Congo (ROC) government to help them. Some also need medical care, but an overstretched mobile clinic run by a UNHCR partner cannot cope with all their needs.
The Congolese were escaping from a dispute between the Enyele and Munzaya tribes over farming and fishing rights in the village of Dongo, in DRC's Equateur province. A total of 60 people have been killed and the violence spread to surrounding villages, several of which were burned. About 40 people were badly injured; some are in hospital in the Republic of Congo.
The DRC asylum-seekers - who are mainly Munzayas - are staying in public buildings or with host communities across 11 villages alongside the Oubangui River.
The first clashes between the Enyele and Munzaya happened last March, when more than 200 houses were burned in the village of Munzaya and more than 1,200 residents fled to the ROC. UNHCR is seriously concerned about the intensity of the violence and its spread to nearby villages, which have been virtually emptied of people.
This latest violence, taking place in the north-west of the DRC, the third-largest country in Africa, is unrelated to sporadic fighting in the east, which has displaced 1.7 million people within the country.
Before the current influx, there were already some 9,000 refugees from DRC in northern Republic of Congo who had sought safety from the civil war in their country, which formally ended in 2003. Although large numbers went home to the DRC with the return of peace, these 9,000 wish to settle permanently in the Republic of Congo. UNHCR is working with the government to find ways to make this possible.