LIBREVILLE, 21 June (IRIN) - More than 40 refugees from Congo-Brazzaville living in Gabon have been arrested in a police crackdown on illegal immigrants and threatened with deportation to their home country, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR said.
Peggy Pentshi-a-Maneng, a protection officer with the UNHCR in the capital Libreville, said 42 refugees from Congo-Brazzaville were picked up by the Gabonese security forces in the southern town of Moanda on the evening of June 15 and driven to the border crossing point at Lekoko, 90 km to the south.
The refugees, who had been living for several years in Gabon, had been denied entry to Congo-Brazzaville by Congolese border guards and had equally been refused re-entry to Gabon. They remained stuck in a no-man's-land between the two frontier posts, she told IRIN on Monday.
"We have been informed about the situation by our office in Franceville (800 km south of Libreville)," Pentshi-a-Maneng said. "This operation was launched by the Gabonese Ministry of Security and was aimed at cracking down on clandestine immigrants and people without identity papers."
UNHCR said the forced repatriation of Congolese had been suspended, but Mesmin Brice Kimbatsa, a Congolese refugee who is chairman of the Association of African Refugees in Gabon, said: "Arrests of Congolese citizens in Moanda are continuing."
"Some refugees living in that town have taken refuge in a church," he added.
Gabonese officials declined to comment on the reported arrests.
There are about 14,000 Congolese refugees in Gabon. They fled across the border during a series of civil wars in Congo-Brazzaville between 1997 and 2000. Many live in Libreville, where they have found jobs and are generally well integrated into the local community.
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