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Republic of Congo: UNHCR to establish permanent presence

Briefing notes

Republic of Congo: UNHCR to establish permanent presence

10 October 2000

UNHCR staff will travel Friday to Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR), and from there 200 km south to Betou in neighbouring Congo Republic (RoC) to establish a permanent presence in an area which hosts around 20,000 recently arrived refugees from fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The operation follows earlier relief missions to Betou, which found the number of refugees had overwhelmed shelter and food supplies on hand.

With the Ubangui River between the two Congos still off-limits for humanitarian traffic, UNHCR will also be sending relief supplies by air to Betou through the CAR. A total of 4,000 plastic sheets are scheduled to be flown from Kinshasa this weekend, in addition to 900 already sent from Bangui.

Among the Congolese crossing over were 400 DRC government troops. They are being kept away from genuine refugees as the respective governments discuss their repatriation. Also among recent arrivals are more then 100 pygmies, the first such group UNHCR has registered among 98,000 refugees in the RoC. Their presence is worrisome, as these small communities are usually very self-sufficient and reluctant to move from their home areas unless faced with extreme hardship.

Security incidents on the river have multiplied in the past week, with substantial troop movements and at least one armed attack on a commercial barge. Aid workers in towns along the refugee-affected area in the RoC have been taking additional security precautions.

UNHCR is to meet Friday in Kinshasa with authorities from the DRC and RoC to disuss ways in which humanitarian agencies could safely regain access to portions of the Congo and Ubangui Rivers.