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Congo: UNHCR trying to reach DRC refugees

Briefing notes

Congo: UNHCR trying to reach DRC refugees

17 December 1999

A UNHCR team trying to reach villages in northern Congo Brazzaville, where thousands of refugees have reportedly fled recent fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo, travelled Wednesday, 15 December, 1,000 km north of the capital to Impfondo. Local officials and refugees told the UNHCR staff that around 13,000 Congolese were staying in villages and settlements scattered along a 300 km stretch of the Oubangui river, which forms the border between the two Congos.

Only a few hundred refugees have shelter in the town of Impfondo itself. They said that Congolese arrivals were driven out of an area in the DRC several hundred kilometres long and up to 80 km wide in the past few weeks by combat, air raids and pillaging of homes by soldiers. Congolese (Brazzaville) who have heard artillery fire across the river and refugees say fighting between rebels and DRC government forces for the towns of Bururu and Bomongo continued until a few days ago.

No boats were available to UNHCR to verify the reported numbers further upriver. Staff said the humanitarian situation is not dramatic as most refugees have sought shelter in areas where they can fish or help local farmers. Local authorities said, however, that the entire area has been affected by exceptional flooding over the past two months, damaging many fields and villages.

With an NGO, UNHCR staff have started a vaccination campaign for new arrivals and are planning to dispatch emergency and agricultural supplies as soon as the reported numbers and locations of refugees can be confirmed.