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Central African Republic: CAR refugees flee to DR Congo

Briefing notes

Central African Republic: CAR refugees flee to DR Congo

29 October 2002

There are reports that a number of Central African nationals are entering the Democratic Republic of Congo's Equateur province at Zongo, a town directly across the Ubangui River from Bangui. The refugees are fleeing a very tense situation in Bangui, where fighting and aerial bombing continued through the weekend. Until late Monday, the tremors of bombing could be felt by UNHCR staff from Zongo, in northern DRC. The situation overnight was reported calm.

The MLC (Mouvement pour la Libération du Congo) rebels, who control the DRC's Equateur province, reported on Monday the arrival of a number of refugees who crossed the border for safety. They are currently in Maba and Gbadoke, two Zongo neighbourhoods and entry points on the Ubangui river. A joint UNHCR/MLC assessment mission is scheduled to travel today to Maba and Gbadoke. UNHCR is also planning to open three registration centres in Zongo today to record the new arrivals and get information about their ethnic profile.

We are concerned about potential tensions arising from the presence of refugees from different ethnic groups. There are presently 3,400 CAR refugees from the Yakoma ethnic group in Mole camp, 35 km from Zongo. These refugees arrived following the averted coup in May 2001. There are also 576 former combatants from the same ethnic background who are hosted at Bokilio, 100 km from Zongo. The possible arrival of refugees from the Kaba ethnic group - the same as CAR President Patassé - could trigger some tension. UNHCR will carry out screening in an existing transit centre to separate refugees from the two rival groups, as well as any armed elements from the civilian population.

UNHCR Zongo has also obtained agreement from the rebel MLC authorities that they open a humanitarian corridor for a possible further influx of CAR asylum seekers to Zongo as a result of the current developments in Bangui.

UNHCR Zongo has requested dry rations for distribution to the new asylum seekers. The boxes will be airlifted from Kinshasa to Zongo on Wednesday. The flight will also carry water and other food and basic commodities.

Some 40 CAR refugees who had recently gone home to Bangui have reported back in Mole camp, DRC. Significant numbers of DRC nationals are also reported to have crossed into Zongo overnight.