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UNHCR: Update on Great Lakes and Congo

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At a Glance
  • Fighting in Brazzaville continues, involving Rwandans from Kintele camp, near the capital, and from the northern sites of Loukolela and Njoundou
  • UNHCR makes plans to phase out its programs for Rwandans in the Republic of Congo
  • As refugees disembark from the DRC in Tanzania, new arrivals say rebels are trying to stop civilians from leaving
  • Nutritional situation of Angolan refugees in Kisenge worsens without regular food supplies
Republic of the Congo

A recent visit to Kintele camp, 24 kms north of Brazzaville, by UNHCR confirmed reports that Rwandans had become involved in the latest round of fighting in the country. Staff observed virtually no adult males in the camp, while the remaining population said that several hundred men had been armed and deployed by the Congolese Armed Forces. In a similar way, 300 to 400 Rwandans from Njoundou and Loukolela have left the northern sites to join the fighting.

With the intensification of the war and the militarization of the refugee sites, UNHCR has taken measures to phase out its assistance to Rwandans in Congo. Assistance to Kintele will cease, and plans are being drawn up to transfer all Rwandan women, children and others, who have not taken up arms, to a single site. Already, the last refugees in Njoundou are scheduled to be moved to Loukolela, bringing the number of refugees remaining in the north of the country to approximately 2,500.

Another site, further from the DRC border will be found, and UNHCR will then provide a one-time assistance package before ending its program. The plan is currently under discussion with authorities in Brazzaville, with UNHCR stressing that Rwandans who have taken part in fighting in the DRC or in Congo should be excluded.

Tanzania

Developments in the conflict opposing pro-Kinshasa and rebellion forces in the DRC brought changes in the rate of arrivals in Tanzania, with Congolese refugees telling UNHCR in Kigoma that rebels were now trying to stop the outflow to Tanzania. After almost 6,000 Congolese crossed Lake Tanganyika during the week of 18-24 January, the number then dropped, to an average of less than 350 per day. As of 8 February, 33,986 Congolese had crossed to Kigoma since August 1998.

Recent arrivals say rebels using patrol boats have, on at least two occasions, forced vessels carrying would-be refugees back to the DRC. Advances against Mayi-Mayi fighters have also given anti-Kinshasa forces control of more of the South Kivu coastline and of departure points.

The number of Congolese refugees in western Tanzania has been revised downwards after UNHCR carried out a verification exercise in Lugufu (population 13,798) and Nyarugusu (39,406) camps during the last week of January. UNHCR Kigoma received help from staff at other agencies and NGOs in carrying out the operation. The verification brought the number of refugees down from around 65,000 to 53,204.

UNHCR will begin work on a special project to reduce sexual violence against women and girls in refugee camps after last week receiving the first instalment of a US$ 1.65 million donation by the Ted Turner Foundation. The program aims to help some 400,000 refugees in camps in Tanzania, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia and Sierra Leone, by strengthening local legal systems' ability to bring perpetrators to trial, providing training for area police and better counselling for victims.

Rwanda

In a cabinet reshuffle on 8 February, seven new ministers were named to the Government, including two former UNHCR employees. Former National Programme Officer Angelina Muganza was named Minister of Gender and Family, while Sylvie Kayitesi Zainabo, a former National Protection Officer, will head the newly-created Ministry of Environment.

Almost 300,000 displaced people have been resettled so far to new sites in the northwestern prefectures of Gisenyi (118,730) and Ruhengeri (176,363). UNHCR has not been involved in the transfer of these IDPs, but continues to distribute blankets, soap and other items. The Government estimates that 24,400 remain to be resettled in Gisenyi, while the Ruhengeri figure may be as high as 185,000.

Burundi

Security incidents led to population movements in Burundi's southern provinces of Makamba, Rutana and Bururi, as well as in Bujumbura Rurale. 5,079 Burundi had made their way to Tanzanian camps between August 1998 and Wednesday, 10 February. More than 80 newly-arrived refugees have been hospitalized with bullet or shrapnel wounds during those six months.

At the end of the fourth round of the Burundi peace talks on 31 January, mediator Julius Nyerere urged delegations to conclude a durable agreement by June 1999.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Amid claims and counter-claims of military victories in Equator province, the group of Congolese refugees in the Central African Republic has grown to 7,500 over the past two weeks. Most of the Congolese, who began arriving in mid-January, have crossed the Oubangui River into Bangui, with smaller numbers located up to 120 kms away in Mongoumba and Zinga.

Only 400 of the refugees have indicated that they would accept a Government-planned relocation to Boubou, a site 300 kms from Bangui.

A UNHCR mission reported that the mortality rate among 40,000 Angolan refugees in Kisenge, Eastern Kasai province, is rising and that the number of people hospitalized for malnutrition has increased drastically. Health workers told UNHCR staff, who travelled to Kisenge on 31 January, that they had been registering two deaths per day. At UNHCR's request, MSF has established therapeutic and supplementary feeding facilities at the site.

Most of the refugees arrived in Kisenge in mid-1998 with the outbreak of fresh hostilities between UNITA and the Angolan army. UNHCR made two emergency food purchases last year, but the current rains have eliminated seasonal work that provided refugees with some income, and no regular supply of food has been established to date.

A group of 35 Congolese refugees were transferred from western Uganda to Kyangwali settlement, in Hoima district, after an intervention on 5 February by the Ugandan Minister of State in charge of refugees, along with the UNHCR Representative. Residents of Kisoro had resisted allowing the last groups of Congolese to pass through the area on their way to the settlement.

2,250 of the 3,000 refugees who crossed into Kisoro from the DRC in December have been moved to Kyangwali. Around 800 were refouled by local authorities during the first days of January.

This document is intended for public information purposes only. It is not an official UN document.