UNHCR chief urges international support for Central African Republic and DR Congo

News Stories, 12 April 2013

© UNHCR/F.Lejeune-Kaba
High Commissioner António Guterres addressing refugees from Central African Republic in Worobe camp, Equateur province, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

WOROBE, Democratic Republic of the Congo, April 12 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Friday called on the international community to increase its support for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR), which have both been facing major humanitarian crises for more than a decade.

Guterres made the call during a visit to Worobe camp in northern DRC's Equateur province, where he talked to some of the more than 2,200 refugees from Central African Republic. An estimated 37,000 civilians have fled across the Oubangui River to Equateur and Orientale provinces to escape fighting in Central African Republic. Many left after the rebel capture on March 23 of the capital, Bangui.

The High Commissioner said he had come to the Democratic Republic of the Congo because he wanted to draw the world's attention to the "forgotten" humanitarian crises in the DRC and the neighbouring CAR. He stressed that more than 3 million civilians from the two countries have been uprooted within and outside their county, due to conflict and violence.

Nearly two decades of war and instability have left 2.5 million Congolese homeless in the DRC, mostly in eastern provinces, while 450,000 others have fled abroad to countries like Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Meanwhile, the thousands of new CAR refugees are in addition to 188,000 of their compatriots who have been in exile in neighbouring countries for years. CAR also has 173,000 internally displaced people.

Speaking to the refugees in Worobe, Guterres said: "I wanted to express my solidarity with you because I know that you have suffered a lot." He promised that "we and our partners will do our best to make sure that the international community will help you."

The refugees told the visiting High Commissioner and his delegation that they urgently needed clean water, food, shelter and health care. Worobe is located some 20 kilometres from the Equateur town of Zongo, which lies opposite Bangui. Hundreds of refugees are staying in Zongo with host families.

UNHCR and its partners face logistical problems reaching out to the thousands of refugees spread along a 600-kilometre stretch of the Oubangui in a remote and hard to access region. UNHCR is working with the authorities in the DRC as well as two other receiving countries, Cameroon and Chad, to provide protection and assistance.

The agency, which is also helping to provide aid and protection in Worobe, has been registering the refugees, distributing aid, setting up emergency shelters and working with partner organizations to provide health and education support.

UNHCR has already allocated US$6 million in response to the influx, but the funding does not cover all the needs of the widely scattered refugees. A new camp for an initial 10,000 refugees is being created at Inke, in Equateur's North Oubangui district.

Guterres arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday for a three-day visit. Before his departure on Saturday evening, he is scheduled to meet President Joseph Kabila and members of his government.

UNHCR runs a major operation in Democratic Republic of the Congo. Aside from the internally displaced people, it also monitors tens of thousands of refugees from other African countries. It has also helped repatriate refugees from Republic of Congo, Angola, Rwanda and Burundi.

By Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba in Worobe, Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Intense fighting has forced more than 64,000 Congolese to flee the country in recent months.

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Crisis in the Central African Republic

Little has been reported about the humanitarian crisis in the northern part of the Central African Republic (CAR), where at least 295,000 people have been forced out of their homes since mid-2005. An estimated 197,000 are internally displaced, while 98,000 have fled to Chad, Cameroon or Sudan. They are the victims of fighting between rebel groups and government forces.

Many of the internally displaced live in the bush close to their villages. They build shelters from hay, grow vegetables and even start bush schools for their children. But access to clean water and health care remains a huge problem. Many children suffer from diarrhoea and malaria but their parents are too scared to take them to hospitals or clinics for treatment.

Cattle herders in northern CAR are menaced by the zaraguina, bandits who kidnap children for ransom. The villagers must sell off their livestock to pay.

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Crisis in the Central African Republic

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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Since 2006, renewed conflict and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes – the country's worst displacement crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are now some 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

Hope for the future was raised in January 2008 when the DRC government and rival armed factions signed a peace accord. But the situation remains tense in North Kivu and tens of thousands of people still need help. UNHCR has opened sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) and distributed assistance such as blankets, plastic sheets, soap, jerry cans, firewood and other items to the four camps in the region. Relief items have also been delivered to some of the makeshift sites that have sprung up.

UNHCR staff have been engaged in protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs and other populations at risk across North Kivu.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

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