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No immediate solution for Congolese refugees seeking repatriation from Bangui, says UNHCR

No immediate solution for Congolese refugees seeking repatriation from Bangui, says UNHCR

Hundreds of Congolese refugees encamped at the UN refugee agency's former compound in the Central African Republic's capital will not get repatriation help immediately as a recent coup has left UNHCR with no government partners to work with.
26 March 2003
Montagnard asylum seekers pray before taking their meal in a UNHCR facility at Banlung in Ratanakiri province.

BANGUI, Central African Republic, March 26 (UNHCR) - In the wake of a recent coup in the Central African Republic (CAR), the UN refugee agency resumed its work in the capital on Tuesday but was unable to help hundreds of Congolese refugees encamped at its former compound to return home immediately.

More than 300 Congolese refugees had fled to the former UNHCR compound in Bangui last week amid violence and massive looting in the capital following a coup d'état by former army chief of staff, François Bozizé.

Many of the refugees originate from Equateur province, in north-western Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which is controlled by the rebel group, Mouvement pour la Libération du Congo (MLC). Before the coup, it was widely believed that the MLC had lent its military support to the CAR army for weeks to fight rebels allied with Bozizé in the north of the country.

Citing fears of retaliatory attacks due to MLC's association with CAR's toppled regime, the Congolese refugees at UNHCR's former compound in Bangui have requested help to repatriate.

UNHCR and the UN World Food Programme have provided basic assistance to the fearful group of refugees at the Bangui compound. However, the refugee agency warns that it cannot continue providing assistance to the refugees at their present location, which lacks facilities for so many people.

"Our former UNHCR compound is not equipped to handle such a large number of people," said Emile Segbor, UNHCR's representative in Bangui. "We will have to transfer the refugees to Molangue camp where there are adequate facilities to help meet their needs until we can assist them to return home."

Molangue, a former coffee plantation, is some 130 km south-west of Bangui. It is home to 3,000 Congolese refugees, many of whom fled to the Central African Republic in 1998/1999 to escape the conflict that followed Laurent Kabila's accession to power in the DRC and the subsequent occupation of large parts of northern and eastern DRC by rebel groups.

Segbor said that arrangements for the return of the Congolese refugees seeking repatriation will be delayed by the absence of CAR government partners. Bozizé, the new self-declared CAR president, dissolved parliament and dismissed the government last week, leaving an administrative vacuum that has yet to be filled.

Similarly, the return of more than 1,000 Central African refugees who have asked for help to return home from Mole refugee camp, some 40 km away on the DRC side of the border, will be delayed by the lack of relevant government partners to facilitate their return.