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Republic of Congo: thousands arriving in cut off villages

Briefing notes

Republic of Congo: thousands arriving in cut off villages

21 July 2000

UNHCR staff in northern Republic of Congo have received alarming reports of large numbers of refugee arrivals in villages along the Ubangui River - villages that are still cut off from humanitarian assistance. Yesterday, Congolese refugees in Njoundou, north of the confluence of the Ubangui and Congo Rivers, sent word by letter to the UNHCR base in Koukolela that they now number over 20,000 at the site. The last UNHCR mission to Njoundou on 8 July counted approximately 5,200 people and performed medical tests which later confirmed the presence of shigella (a cholera-like disease) among refugees.

Although this latest information of thousands more arrivals could not be immediately confirmed, crew members on a river barge which passed Njoundou said that the village appeared to be jammed with recently arrived Congolese and that many appeared to be without shelter. The barge, previously used by UNHCR to deliver supplies to the region, was returning empty to Brazzaville and had earlier been detained by DR Congo troops.

RoC authorities have advised against any movement on the river north of Liranga. (This is a warning we take seriously: A team of UNHCR and NGO staff was intercepted by DRC troops on the river in May and detained for several days.) The fighting and presence of DRC military vessels in the region have brought traffic along the busy river to a virtual standstill. UNHCR has appealed urgenty to both DRC and RoC authorities to safeguard humanitarian operations and facilitate the immediate travel of a barge carrying tons of desperately-needed relief supplies.

To the north, UNHCR was alerted Tuesday by refugees to the presence of up to 5,000 more Congolese in a remote village called Africa Moussa, 120 km north of Impfondo. The group fled last week's fighting in the DRC towns of Dongo and Imese, which prompted several thousand other refugees to cross, and pushed other groups away form encampments on the RoC banks of the Ubangui River. Before this latest information was received, UNHCR estimated the number of Congolese refugees in the RoC at 40,000. UNHCR continues to distribute emergency supplies of food, plastic sheeting, blankets, soap and other necessities to around 1,000 refugees per day in the Impfondo area. Staff are also indentifying children separated from their parents during flight. So far, 48 cases have been registered in sites around Impfondo.