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Republic of Congo: More DRC civilians flee from Equateur province

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This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today's Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva. Further information can be found on the UNHCR websites, www.unhcr.org and www.unhcr.fr, which should also be checked for regular media updates on non-briefing days.

More and more Congolese civilians are fleeing from the troubled Equateur province in the north west Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Fearing the spread of violence, they continue to cross into the neighbouring Republic of Congo (ROC). According to government estimates, some 84,000 DRC refugees arrived since early November when interethnic violence between Enyele and Munzaya tribes erupted over farming and fishing rights.

Some of the new arrivals told UNHCR they fled following the news that Enyele militiamen - who at the end of October launched an attack killing and wounding scores of people in the Dongo area - were now advancing towards the town of Gemena, located some 200 kilometres north of Dongo. Others came from the actual fighting areas or said they were afraid of the government's counter-offensive. In the last wave of arrivals, UNHCR staff met people with fresh gunshot wounds, as well as registered nine rape cases, three of whom were girls under 18 years of age.

Together with our partners we are trying to cope with the influx but aid reserves are running low as the number of refugees mushrooms and current needs overcome the actual resources. In addition, humanitarian agencies are facing considerable logistical obstacles as the entire refugee population is scattered along a 500 km stretch on the banks of the Oubangui river.

They live in overcrowded conditions and the risks of respiratory infections, diarrhoea as well as malaria are high. Together with its partners, UNHCR has helped create nine health centres near main refugee concentration areas, which need more medicine and personnel. In addition, we are running several mobile clinics for the more remote areas.

Due to lack of clean water, the refugees are using the river for their needs, which is another major health risk. We are distributing water-purifying tablets to make the water safer for consumption. Aid agencies have installed six large water bladders with a combined capacity of 60,000 litres in the vicinity of Betou in northern ROC where nearly 55,000 of the new arrivals are now sheltering.

The massive presence of the DRC refugees is also exerting pressure on the local communities, some of whom are hosting them in their homes, sharing their meagre resources. Other refugees found shelter in public buildings - such as in the village of Monzombo in Betou area where eight classrooms of a local school are currently serving as shelter, making it difficult for the local children to attend the classes.

Following allocation of land by the local authorities, we began engineering works on a new camp site in the Betou area where we plan to transfer some the refugees.

Meanwhile in Equater province, the situation remains tense. An estimated 100,000 people may have been internally displaced there since early November. Government troops have reportedly regained control over several areas, including Dongo. UNHCR is planning an assessment mission to this area as soon as the security conditions permit.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

In Kinshasa, Francesca Fontanini on mobile: +243 81 700 94 84

In Geneva, Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile: +41 79 249 34 83