DRC-CONGO: New wave of refugees flees fresh fighting
These mattresses have been donated to ease the refugees’ harsh conditions
BRAZZAVILLE, 20 November 2009 (IRIN) - Renewed clashes in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have led to a further wave of refugees, leaving corpse-littered villages in the affected area deserted, say humanitarian officials.
About 100 people are thought to have died in clashes
over fishing rights in DRC’s South Ubangui district, which lies in Equateur province. Others are believed to have drowned while crossing the Ubangui river, which separates the two Congos.
"Today we have 30,600 displaced persons. We have had a massive influx since yesterday [19 November] because of a resumption in fighting," Rufin Mafouta, head of the NGO Médecins d’Afrique in Impfondo, the main town in the Republic of Congo’s (ROC) northern Likouala department, told IRIN.
Likouala is located about 800km north of the capital, Brazzaville.
"There was a week we had just 24,000 refugees. The number has quickly risen because of a resumption in fighting in towns and villages in the DRC," Mafouta said.
Conditions are harsh for the refugees.
"They are exposed to the bad weather,” Mafouta said. “The sanitary conditions remain worrying. We have recorded some cases of diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections and skin diseases among the children.”
“In Eboko, we carried out an evaluation and found there are a lot of unaccompanied children. They lost their parents,” he added. “There are also many pregnant women.”
An 18 November update by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Kinshasa said four children had died of diarrhoea in Eboko.
A recent interagency mission to the South Ubangui villages of Dongo, Tangala, Ozene and Kungu found Dongo deserted, with corpses still strewn in the streets, stated the OCHA report.
Houses, shops and other property were also burned. Congolese police deployed in the area are afraid for their health.
The refugees include members of the DRC’s navy, which patrols the Ubangui.
"We have been forced to flee with our families because we neither have weapons nor ammunition [to] protect ourselves," Wazaba Paluku, a sergeant, told IRIN in the ROC village of Dongou, where sailors had taken refuge in a police station.
About 70 percent of the refugees are women and children, 25 percent are young people, with the rest elderly persons, according to Boubacar Ben Diallo, head of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) crisis unit.
Hospitals reported receiving people with bullet and machete injuries.
DRC's ambassador to the ROC, Esther Kirongozi, said her government had recently set up a special commission to find a lasting solution to the crisis.
DRC authorities also launched an appeal
for its citizens to return home.
Aid agencies recently distributed about 15 tonnes of food and non-food items such as insecticide-treated bed nets, cooking pots, water jerry cans and blankets to the refugees in Betou, Boyele, Dongo and Impfondo following a joint UN and ROC ministry evaluation mission.
“The [donation] is inadequate but we have been forced to distribute [it], in the meantime [awaiting] other help,” noted UNHCR's Diallo.
According to the police, some of the refugees are making their way back to their DRC villages across Ubangui River to harvest their crops before crossing back to the ROC.