The United Nations refugee agency today began registering over 100,000 refugees who fled ethnic conflict in the Equateur province in north-west Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since November last year.
“The registration is designed to ascertain the number of refugees and to properly identify them,” Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told reporters in Geneva.
“We will also be profiling refugee families to determine their specific needs and cater our assistance programs accordingly,” he added.
The operation kicked off in Betou district of Lukouala region in northern Republic of Congo (ROC), an area hosting more than 60 per cent of the estimated 107,000 DRC refugees.
Mr. Mahecic noted that the exercise, being carried out a 500-kilometres long stretch of territory along the Oubangui River, is logistically challenging given that the majority of the refugees are in areas that can be reached only by boats.
“The water levels are receding and we are running against time to complete the registration within two months before the dry season sets in and rivers become too low for navigation,” he stated.
Despite the challenges, UNHCR is continuing to deliver emergency assistance, including blankets, plastic sheeting for shelter, kitchen sets, sleeping mats and mosquito nets, to the Congolese who left their homeland last year.
The refugees fled Equateur province 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.
In addition to those seeking refuge in northern ROC, the UN has registered some 18,000 Congolese who fled to the Central African Republic (CAR) and more are continuing to arrive there.
Meanwhile, back in Equateur province, UNHCR is participating in an inter-agency humanitarian assessment mission to identify the needs of an estimated 90,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) affected by the recent ethnic violence and tensions.