Republic of Congo: continuing flight from DRC
Refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo's Equator Province continue to cross the Oubangui River to seek asylum in the Impfondo area of neighbouring Congo Brazzaville. They are fleeing fighting as the rebel forces of Jean-Claude Mbemba advance southwards along the river toward the town of Mbandaka.
An estimated 25,000 refugees have settled in villages on the Republic of Congo side, stretching some 500 km from Betou in the north to Njoundou in the south.
This area can only be reached by boat and a continuing shortage of fuel and general insecurity in the area make UNHCR's relief operation extremely difficult. So far, we've managed to reach 13,500 refugees in 17 villages in the northern sector of Impfondo. Limited assistance with plastic sheeting, fishing nets and soap has been provided to the most vulnerable. Floating mobile clinics staffed by local nurses have been set up to vaccinate children and provide first-aid.
Many of the refugees are fishermen and get their food from the river. But the authorities in Brazzaville, citing insecurity and the risk of infiltration by armed elements, say they would prefer that the refugees be settled camps away from the border. UNHCR is examining what, if any, longer-term plans are required.
UNHCR is currently positioning a stock of non-food items, including plastic sheeting, agricultural tools and seeds for 5,000 families in Impfondo.
A joint mission including UNHCR, WFP and government officials is expected to depart on March 12 to assess the refugee situation in the southern area of Njoundou.