Angola + 1 more

Angola: Fears of fresh refugee influx into Zambia

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JOHANNESBURG, 1 February (IRIN) - Heavy fighting in southeast Angola between government forces and UNITA rebels has raised fears of a fresh refugee influx into the all but inaccessible Zambian flood plains along the western banks of the upper Zambezi River.
Humanitarian sources in Zambia told IRIN on Tuesday that relief agencies were concerned at the plight of thousands refugees crammed in the town of Sinjembela on the Angolan border.

"These people are virtually isolated because they are on the western side of the river. The ferries are no longer working following heavy rains and the roads are virtually impassable," a humanitarian source told IRIN. "We are deeply concerned because these people must be weak enough after fleeing across the border. It is an area where we have been told you can sometimes see and hear the fighting on the other side."

According to official UNHCR figures, an estimated 7,000 people are now in Sinjembela, and so far, with the help of the Zambian military authorities, only one lorry with food has reached them. The sources said they were concerned that their numbers could have increased in recent days. They said they also expected a further influx further north near the Congolese border.

The refugees are among a group of 21,000 Angolans who have fled since October last year when the government stepped up its military offensive against UNITA stronghlds in southeast Angola. Last week, in a joint operation by UN agencies, nearly 4,000 refugees stranded north of Sinjembela at a border town called Kalabo, were transported by air and road to a well established camp at Mayukwayukwa, which now houses more than 10,000 refugees.

Oluseyi Bajulaiye, the UNHCR representative in Zambia, said it took lorries up to three days to cover 100 km along the western side of the river. "Logisitically, it is a very, very difficult situation," he said.

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