UN agency transfers CAR refugees

The UN refugee agency has begun to transfer refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) to a new location within the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A total of 306 refugees were transferred on 8 January from Zongo on the Congolese-CAR border to a new location 45 km due south, in Mole. Further transfers will take place until the camp reaches its maximum initial capacity of 5,000, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Paul Stromberg, told IRIN on Wednesday.

Wells have been dug, classrooms for children completed as well as health and distribution centres, he said. At the end of December 2001, UNHCR had transferred kitchen utensils, jerry cans, blankets, soap and plastic sheeting to the site and the newly-arrived refugees have received materials with which to build individual shelters, he said.

Following an attempted coup in May 2001, an estimated 24,000 refugees from CAR crossed the border into the DRC, settling in schools and temporary shelters in Zongo and other villages along the Ubangui River. An estimated 5,000 of these have since returned home, partly due to insecurity in the region, Stromberg said.

Despite an official visit from 20 CAR officials in December to encourage the refugees to repatriate, many have remained reluctant. Spokesmen for the refugees have said the government must rebuild their homes, put looters of the failed coup on trial, pay salary arrears for the civil servants among the group, and guarantee their safety should they return.