The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has today strongly condemned the recent kidnapping of Congolese refugees by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), calling for an immediate release of those still in captivity.
On 21 March, 15 Congolese refugees and one Congolese national were kidnapped by the LRA near the border between the Central African Republic (CAR) and the DCR. They were abducted from the DRC side of the border, where they had been tending to their fields.
According to UNHCR, 13of them, 2 women and 11 men, were released two days later and trekked back to the refugee camp near Zemio in the southeast of CAR. Some of the victims arrived with open wounds, and a 16-year old girl had been raped. Three refugee boys are still missing.
At a Geneva press briefing this afternoon, UNHCR’s Karin de Gruijl said that upon their arrival, the released refugees were immediately transferred to the health centre in Zemio where they received the necessary medical care. They were still in shock and anxious to learn about the missing refugees, she said.
UNHCR and its partners are providing psychosocial counselling to help them cope with this traumatic event. The UN agency also plans to step up awareness raising efforts to provide refugees with up-to-date information about the security situation, LRA activities in the region and the risks associated with moving between the camp in the CAR and their fields in the DRC.
LRA rebels have intensified their attacks on villages at the CAR-DRC border since the arrest in the CAR of Dominic Ongwen, an LRA top commander accused of crimes against humanity in the beginning of 2015.
The Lord’s Resistance Army sprung up in Uganda in 1986, established its first base in Sudan in 1993, and spread to the DRC in 2005, before moving further north into the CAR in 2009. Chased by the Ugandan armed forces, the remaining LRA rebels have pulled back in the forests in south-eastern CAR. They continue to wreak havoc and spread terror in the area.
According to UNHCR, more than 180,000 people remain internally displaced in LRA-affected areas in the CAR and the DRC, while LRA violence has caused more than 30,000 people to flee to the different neighbouring countries.
To meet those needs, UNHCR and partners are providing assistance to refugees. To date, some 640 refugees had registered to take part in the voluntary return programme that would be facilitated by the UN agency. The return programme is expected to start in the coming weeks, once the rehabilitation and extension of the airstrips in Zemio and Ango airstrips have been completed.
However, Ms. de Gruijl said the security situation tense there. There is not enough police to provide enforcement for the time being. Over the previous year, it had been a challenge to provide food to some parts of the CAR; consequently, people from camps are looking for ways to supplement both their nutrition and incomes. There are no also UN peacekeepers in that part of the CAR.
Zemio refugee camp hosts some 3,400 Congolese refugees from the Ango Territory, in Province Orientale in the north-eastern part of the DRC. Those Congolese fled LRA atrocities in the Province Orientale and found refuge in the CAR in 2009.