The U.N. refugee agency is busy dealing with a flood of refugees leaving the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ethic fighting in the northwestern Equateur Province has caused 120,000 refugees to flee to neighboring Republic of Congo (ROC) and the Central African Republic (CAR). The vast majority, about 107,000, have gone to ROC.
“We’ve had a mass influx from the DRC,” says Stephane Grieb, UNHCR spokesperson in Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo; “the border is the Ubangi River, which is a very large river here in the area and it turns into the Congo River a bit later.”
Under control, for now
The influx of refugees has caused the population of one ROC province to triple, he says.
“So you can imagine all the problems with infrastructure, the living conditions, housing and food. And that’s currently what we are dealing with.”
Although the situation is serious, Grieb says it is currently under control. But he warns problems will mount as the flow of refugees continues. Many have taken shelter with the local population in the Republic of Congo.
“The UNHCR was present from the very beginning. We already had an office there before the crisis started. So we were able to very quickly react. We and our partners,” he says.
The U.N. World Food Program is distributing food to the refugees, while UNHCR is handing out non-food items, such as blankets, utensils, shelter material, etc.
“The area is very hard to access. The main access is by boat and at the moment the level of the river is going down. So that means the larger boats can no longer access (the river),” Grieb says.
UNHCR is transporting supplies to the area by plane. Small canoes are also being used to cross the river and help locate refugees.
The agency has no plans to set up formal camps as in other settings, such as neighboring DRC.
“What we are trying to do,” says Grieb, “is to get people a bit closer together so it would be [easier] to assist them.”
The closest thing to a camp is an informal settlement for about 6,000 refugees, who fled the fighting in one DRC town, Dongu-Zaire, with little more than the clothes they were wearing.