UNHCR seeks US$20 million to help tens of thousands of Congolese refugees
GENEVA, March 9 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency appealed on Tuesday for some US$20 million in funding to help it meet the needs of tens of thousands of civilians who have fled ethnic conflict in Democratic Republic of the Congo's Equateur province and sought shelter in neighbouring Republic of Congo.
"UNHCR's request is part of a broader appeal by UN agencies, who have so far received only US$17.3 million of the nearly US$59 million required this year for this crisis. We hope that donors will respond generously," UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told journalists in Geneva.
"Our concern is that four months into their exile, the refugees are still lacking basic humanitarian aid, despite our efforts. So far we've been able to cover just 30 per cent of the needs of this huge population for food, sanitation, shelter, health care and primary education," she added.
About 110,000 Congolese refugees have fled the ethnic violence in Equateur, crossed the Oubangui River and found shelter in northern Republic of Congo's (ROC) Likouala province since late last year. The vast majority, 82 per cent, are women and children.
They are dispersed in 100 sites in an area extending 600 kilometres along the Oubangui, further compounding the difficulties for humanitarian agencies in reaching them. Low river levels are preventing movement of heavy cargoes by boat and requiring UNHCR to ferry supplies in limited quantities or to fly them in.
"These funds are needed to increase our overall protection and logistical capacity for the operation. The funds will also be used to provide primary education for more than 20,000 refugee children, to supply more shelter, to procure additional relief items, to improve access to health and to expand sanitation," UNHCR's Fleming said. "The provision of clean water is also urgently required to curb water-related diseases common among the population who resort to drinking from the river."
UN partners in this appeal include the World Food Programme, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization, UNESCO, the UN Development Programme, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
The refugees fled from Equateur province after fighting started in late October last year when Enyele militiamen launched deadly assaults on ethnic Munzayas over fishing and farming rights in the Dongo area. The tensions have since expanded to most parts of Equateur province, which drove an additional 18,000 refugees to flee to the Central African Republic.