284 Congolese refugees demand repatriation

Some 284 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), camped on the grounds of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangui are demanding that they be repatriated, the agency’s representative in the Central African Republic (CAR) told IRIN on Tuesday.

The official, Emile Segbor, said the refugees feared reprisal attacks by CAR nationals. He said the refugees had told the agency’s officials that since former CAR army chief of staff Francois Bozize seized power on 15 March, CAR nationals had expressed "anti-Congolese feelings", allegedly over human rights excesses perpetrated by fighters of the Jean Pierre Bemba’s Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC). The MLC had supported the now-ousted president, Ange-Felix Patasse, since October 2002 following a failed coup attempt by Bozize.

Some 1,500 Congolese refugees were repatriated in November 2002 following reprisal attacks against them.

Segbor said on Tuesday that the UNHCR was offering to transfer those who opted to remain in the country to a refugee camp at Molange, 140 km south of Bangui, where there are another 3,000 DRC refugees.

The Congolese refugees, majority of whom are men, have been receiving food from the UN World Food Programme (WFP). Segbor said most were men because they were the most targeted in reprisal attacks.

The representative of Cooperazione Internationale COOPI), Massimiliano Pedretti, told IRIN on Friday that it distributed soya-maize-corn blended pudding to 284 people - mostly women and children. He said COOPI, with the WFP, planned to help the refugees for seven days before seeking another solution.

Apart from pudding "they will have two meals a day composed of maize, beans, vegetable oil and salt", Albert Bango Makoudou, the WFP senior programme officer, told IRIN on Friday. He said WFP had provided three to four metric tons of food for the operation.

With 10,000 people, the DRC forms the second largest refugee community in the CAR after Sudan’s 35,000.

Meanwhile, no CAR refugee in the DRC and the Republic of Congo has registered with the UNHCR for repatriation, Segbor said. The agency had reported on 18 March that CAR refugees in the DRC and the ROC had urged it to repatriate them so that they could take part in the new administration in Bangui.

After a failed coup attempt by former President Andre Kolingba in May 2001, many CAR nationals from his ethnic group, the Yakoma, fled to the DRC and the ROC. Segbor said 3,000 CAR refugees were at Zongo in the DRC, across the Oubangui River’; about 500 at Bokilio, 150 km east of Zongo; and 3,000 to 4,000 in Betou, in northern ROC.

He also said none of the 20,000 refugees who fled to Chad following the fighting between the government forces and rebels from October 2002 to March 2003 had expressed their desire to be repatriated following Bozize’s victory. Most are in the southern Chadian villages of Gore, Sido and Sahr.

"Perhaps they want to take their time and weigh the situation first, or it is because they were traumatised by the recent events which are still fresh in their minds," Segbor said.