A massive influx of 125,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) into neighbouring Republic of Congo (ROC) and Central African Republic (CAR) after deadly ethnic clashes is severely stretching the meagre resources of the impoverished region, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.
“There is an acute need for formal refugee sites to be established in both CAR and ROC, as the majority of the DRC refugees occupy public buildings and spaces,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Andrej Mahecic told a news briefing in Geneva, warning that the influx could lead to tensions with the local community.
“In Mougoumba in CAR (where 17,000 people have fled, 60 per cent of them children and many from orphanages) the refugees outnumber the locals by 200 to one, while the Likouala region of northern ROC has seen its population double with the arrival of 107,000 refugees.”
The refugees fled Equateur province in north-west DRC after fighting erupted in late October when Enyele militiamen launched deadly assaults on ethnic Munzayas over fishing and farming rights in the Dongo area. Tensions have since expanded to most parts of Equateur and the DRC army has launched an offensive against the militia.
Although land has been allocated to accommodate 4,000 refugees in ROC, more space needs to be designated for refugee sites and discussions are ongoing with both ROC and CAR governments, Mr. Mahecic said. Meanwhile, UNHCR has sent emergency staff to support the widely dispersed refugee communities in this region.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has already provided month-long rations of maize, beans, vegetable oil and salt for internally displaced persons (IDPs) within Equateur province, where peacekeepers from the UN mission in DRC (MONUC) have protected the food convoys. Refugees who fled across the Oubangui River into ROC started receiving WFP food aid at the end of November, but their numbers have now swelled.
According to the DRC Government, 270 people were killed when the inter-ethnic clashes first erupted.