Congo + 4 more

UNHCR Briefing Notes: Republic of Congo, North Caucasus, Timor, Mozambique

This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations. Quoted text from this briefing note may be attributed to the UNHCR spokesperson named below
Ron Redmond

1. Republic of Congo

Refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo's Equator Province continue to cross the Oubangui River to seek asylum in the Impfondo area of neighboring Congo Brazzaville. They are fleeing fighting as the rebel forces of Jean-Claude Mbemba advance southwards along the river toward the town of Mbandaka.

An estimated 25,000 refugees have settled in villages on the Republic of Congo side, stretching some 500 kms from Betou in the north to Njoundou in the south.

This area can only be reached by boat and a continuing shortage of fuel and general insecurity in the area make UNHCR's relief operation extremely difficult. So far, we've managed to reach 13,500 refugees in 17 villages in the northern sector of Impfondo. Limited assistance with plastic sheeting, fishing nets and soap has been provided to the most vulnerable. Floating mobile clinics staffed by local nurses have been set up to vaccinate children and provide first-aid.

Many of the refugees are fishermen and get their food from the river. But the authorities in Brazzaville, citing insecurity and the risk of infiltration by armed elements, say they would prefer that the refugees be settled camps away from the border. UNHCR is examining what, if any, longer-term plans are required.

UNHCR is currently positioning a stock of non-food items, including plastic sheeting, agricultural tools and seeds for 5,000 families in Impfondo.

A joint mission including UNHCR, WFP and government officials is expected to depart on March 12 to assess the refugee situation in the southern area of Njoundou.

2. North Caucasus

Although we are planning further aid deliveries to Chechnya, we have no immediate schedule for another convoy pending a review of security and other requirements. Following the first UN deliveries to Grozny on 29 February, you probably saw the reports of fighting and of Russian military casualties in the Staropromyshlovskyj district just hours after our convoy departed from the same district.

Between 7-9 March, an average of 1,500 to 1,700 internally displaced people moved daily from Chechnya to Ingushetia via the "Kavkaz-1" crossing point. Very few new arrivals were reported. Between 900 and 1,100 people returned to Chechnya from Ingushetia daily. They included, on average, between 70 and 100 people daily who said they were returning to Chechnya for good. Their destinations included Achkhoy-Martan, Urus-Martan, Samashki, Alkhan-Yurt.

UNHCR monitors say most of the IDPs in Ingushetia are in no hurry to return to Chechnya, citing insecurity and destruction of housing.

Russian authorities plan to set up a fourth IDP camp in Chechnya, in Tolstoy-Yurt, to the north of Grozny. About 25,000 IDPs are already accommodated in three other camps in Chechnya -- located in Assinovskaya, Sernovodskaya and Znamensksya.

The 37th convoy of relief items left Stavropol for Nazran, Ingushetia, last night. UNHCR contributed one truck with 60 stoves and some soap; the Salvation Army contributed one truck with baby food; WFP sent 8 trucks with food items; MSF contributed one truck with jerry cans; and the Danish Refugee Council three trucks with 7,000 of winter jackets and 3,000 pairs of shoes.

3. Timor

UNHCR is concerned about Indonesia's plans to cut off aid to an estimated 100,000 East Timorese refugees remaining in West Timor unless they make up their mind by March 31 on whether to remain in Indonesia or go back to East Timor. Assistant High Commissioner Soren Jessen-Petersen, who visited both East and West Timor this week and met with several Indonesian ministers in Jakarta, told the Indonesian government that UNHCR was very much in favour of early return. But he said the March 31 deadline may force people to take a decision which they are not prepared to take yet or which they cannot take freely because of continued intimidation by anti-independence militia.

The Indonesian officials assured Jessen-Petersen that they would be flexible in enforcing the deadline. They also promised to do more to neutralise ex-militia who are believed to be intimidating East Timorese in West Timor camps, preventing them from going back home.

An estimated 150,000 East Timorese have gone back since UN rule was established in East Timor last fall. Many have gone back spontaneously and many have been flown or shipped or trucked back in a large-scale repatriation effort mounted jointly by UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Some 100,000 East Timorese remain in West Timor. Half of them are believed to be willing to go back.

4. Mozambique

UNHCR will airlift 50 MT of blankets and plastic sheeting for emergency shelters to flood victims in Mozambique. The flights of relief aid to Maputo are to begin early next week from stocks for refugee operations in Entebbe, Uganda. Heavy rains in the south of Mozambique continue to hamper relief efforts and are increasing the need for temporary shelter material, along with food and medicine. After the successful repatriation of 1.7 million Mozambican refugees in the early 90's, UNHCR closed down its operation in the country and has maintained only a small office in Maputo.

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