DR Congo + 4 more

UNHCR Briefing Notes: Chechnya/Georgia, Timor, Refugees from DR Congo

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1. Chechnya/Georgia
Since last Friday, UNHCR has evacuated by helicopter some 1,200 Chechen refugees from a remote mountain village of Shatili in Georgia, on the southern slopes of the Caucasus, just across the border from Chechnya, to villages in the Pankisi valley in the Akhmeta region of north-eastern Georgia. The arrival of the 1,200 brings the total number of Chechen refugees in Georgia to 5,000 - virtually all of them accommodated in the Pankisi valley. The air-bridge - organised with the help of the Georgian border guards - is now completed. The evacuated group was composed of predominantly women and children. There were also 50 war-wounded men in the group. They were handed over to the ICRC. From Georgia, Shatili can only be reached by air during the winter.

UNHCR is trying to confirm reports that some Chechen refugees may still be stuck in no-man's land between Chechnya and Georgia, intending to cross the border. The airlifting may resume if more people have to be flown to safety.

Today, (Friday) the 16th UNHCR convoy reached Ingushetia's capital Nazran bringing food as well as 5,700 blankets and 4,877 mattresses to the internally displaced in Ingushetia.

2. Timor

After a sharp drop in daily return figures from West to East Timor earlier this month, the numbers of people going back have gone up again to above 1,000 a day in recent days, bringing the total number of returnees to over 118,000. The reasons for the fluctuations are unclear. They can be explained by militia slowly easing their grip on the East Timorese, marking a shift in the attitude of some of the militia leaders. It may also be linked to UNHCR's efforts to counter anti-return propaganda by anti-independence militia through mass information programmes in West Timor camps.

This week, UNHCR shelter kits containing house repair material (timber, corrugated iron sheets, tools and nails as well as cement) started to arrive in Dili. Over the next three months, up to 6,000 shelter kits will be distributed to returnees across East Timor by UNHCR's partner agencies. We have funding for 12,000 more kits while the whole programme will eventually supply up to 35,000 shelter kits to East Timor, as well as the Oecussi exclave.

3. Refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo

A UNHCR team trying to reach villages in northern Congo Brazzaville, where thousands of refugees have reportedly fled recent fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo, travelled Wednesday, 15 December, 1,000 kms north of the capital to Impfondo. Local officials and refugees told the UNHCR staff that around 13,000 Congolese were staying in villages and settlements scattered along a 300 km stretch of the Oubangui river, which forms the border between the two Congos.

Only a few hundred refugees have shelter in the town of Impfondo itself. They said that Congolese arrivals were driven out of an area in the DRC several hundred kilometers long and up to 80 kms wide in the past few weeks by combat, air raids and pillaging of homes by soldiers. Congolese (Brazzaville) who have heard artillery fire across the river and refugees say fighting between rebels and DRC government forces for the towns of Bururu and Bomongo continued until a few days ago.

No boats were available to UNHCR to verify the reported numbers further upriver. Staff said the humanitarian situation is not dramatic as most refugees have sought shelter in areas where they can fish or help local farmers. Local authorities said, however, that the entire area has been affected by exceptional flooding over the past two months, damaging many fields and villages.

With an NGO, UNHCR staff have started a vaccination campaign for new arrivals and are planning to dispatch emergency and agricultural supplies as soon as the reported numbers and locations of refugees can be confirmed.

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