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UNHCR Begins Registration Of 100,000 Refugees From DRC

The United Nations refugee agency says on Friday it is beginning the registration of more than 100,000 refugees who fled ethnic conflict in the remote Equateur province in northwest Democratic Republic of Congo in November. It says the registration will give aid agencies a better idea of the numbers of refugees and what their greatest needs are.

Ethnic clashes between two tribes over farming and fishing rights erupted in the DRC's Equateur province last November. More than 100,000 people, mainly women and children, fled across the Oubangui River into the Republic of Congo.

UN refugee spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, tells VOA many of the people fled in great haste and brought little or nothing with them.

"The needs are great because most of these people are sleeping rough," said Andrej Mahecic. "They occupy either public buildings in the Republic of Congo or public spaces. So, there is a greater need for organized accommodation for these people. Last week, we were calling for more sites to be allocated by the authorities in the Republic of Congo for basically setting up organized refugee sites in that country."

Mahecic says a team of 50 people is carrying out the registration. He says it is taking place on a 500-kilometer stretch of territory along the Oubangui River, which is the border between the two Congos.

He says the registration process is a complex exercise. It took several weeks to prepare for the operation, which he describes as logistically challenging.

"The majority of the refugees are in the areas that we can reach only by boats along the Oubangui River," he said. "Now the water levels are gradually receding and we are running against time to complete the registration within the two months. That would be by the end of February before the dry season sets in and the rivers will become just too low to navigate."

In the meantime, Mahecic says the UNHCR is continuing to deliver emergency assistance to the refugees who are widely dispersed. This aid includes blankets, plastic sheeting for shelter, kitchen sets, sleeping mats and mosquito nets.

He says refugees tell aid workers they are not ready to return home soon because of the continuing instability throughout most of Equateur province.

Meanwhile, he says registration was completed late last month of another 18,000 refugees who sought asylum in the Central African Republic. He says aid workers are continuing to register new arrivals as they trickle in.