Tribal violence in the north-west of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has sent 84,000 people fleeing across the border into the Republic of the Congo since last month, with the United Nations refugee agency reporting today that supplies to assist the displaced are running low.
Inter-ethnic clashes between the Enyele and Munzaya tribes erupted in Equateur province in November over farming and fishing rights, and fearing the spread of fighting, people are continuing to leave their homes.
Some 100,000 people are said to have been internally displaced so far in the province, where the situation remains tense and Government troops have reportedly taken control over several areas.
Some of the uprooted have told the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) that they fled after hearing that Enyele militiamen, who killed and wounded scores of people in the Dongo area, were heading towards the town of Gemena.
Others said they came for the scene of conflict or said they were fearful of a Government counter-offensive.
In the latest wave of arrivals, Andrej Mahecic, UNHCR spokesperson, said that agency staff met with people with fresh gunshot wounds and those who had been raped, including three girls under the age of 18.
“Together with our partners, we are trying to cope with the influx but aid reserves are running low as the number of refugees mushrooms and current needs overcome the actual resources,” he told reporters in Geneva.
Humanitarian agencies are also facing logistical obstacles in delivering aid as the entire refugee population is scattered along a 500-kilometre stretch on the banks of the Oubangui River.
The displaced are living in overcrowded conditions, and the risks of respiratory infections, diarrhoea and malaria are high.
UNHCR and other agencies have set up nine health centres in areas of high refugee concentration, but they need more personnel and medicine.
Because they lack clean water, the refugees are turning to the river for their needs, posing another health risk, and Mr. Mahecic said UNHCR is distributing water-purifying tablets and its partners have installed water bladders holding a combined 60,000 litres.
“The massive presence of the DRC refugees is also exerting pressure on local communities, some of whom are hosting them in their homes, sharing their meagre resources,” he noted.
Other refugees have taken shelter in public buildings, such as schools, making it difficult for children to attend classes.
After being allocated land by local authorities, UNHCR has started work on a new camp site where it plans to transfer some of the refugees.