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DR Congo: UN regains access to group cut off by military operations

DR Congo: UN regains access to group cut off by military operations

Congolese flee inter-ethnic violence in Equateur province
After five weeks of Government operations against ethnic militias, the United Nations refugee agency today said that it is once again able to reach some 35,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who have fled to neighbouring Republic of Congo (ROC).

The refugees – scattered on the ROC side of the Oubangui River separating the two countries – are part of some 114,000 people who have fled clashes sparked by fishing and farming disputes in Equateur Province in northwest DRC last October.

“With the recent lifting of security restrictions we’ve been able to resume humanitarian assistance,” Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told journalists today in Geneva.

The refugees live in some 100 sites along a 600-kilometre stretch of the Oubangui River, contributing to what the agency has called “among the most complex logistical operations” it faces anywhere.

“Reaching people across such an extended and remote area presents enormous challenges,” Mr. Mahecic said.

Staff, resources and assistance are first flown to Impfondo, in northeastern DRC, where they are loaded onto speedboats and barges, then navigated down the Oubangui River.

As an example of the difficulties, it took UN teams more than two days to travel a 180-mile stretch of the Oubangui.

“This is the only way for our staff to reach these refugees and deliver much needed aid. The operation is consuming a lot of time and resources,” said Mr. Mahecic.

UNHCR and other UN agencies mounted a $59 million emergency appeal in March for food, shelter, water, education, health care and other needs for refugees fleeing Equateur.

In addition to providing aid, UN teams are also registering new arrivals.

In a related development, UNHCR announced today that it is planning to beef up its presence in Equateur Province where another 30,000 people have been internally displaced.