GENEVA - The United Nations refugee agency reports a huge surge in the number of refugees fleeing to Zambia to escape growing violence in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
The U.N. refugee agency says more than 3,360 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo have fled into northern Zambia since August 30, making this the largest influx of Congolese into that country in the past five years.
The UNHCR says increased inter-ethnic violence in the DRC provinces of Haut-Katanga and Tanganyika, as well as fighting between Congolese security forces and militia groups, are driving civilians to cross the border.
UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic warns insecurity in DRC is likely to lead to further displacement.
“Those arriving in Zambia report extreme brutality, with civilians being killed, women raped, property looted and houses set alight.… Some 60 percent of those arriving in Zambia are children. Many show signs of malnutrition. Malaria, respiratory problems, dysentery and skin infections are common among the refugees, who are now in urgent need of protection and life-saving support,” he said.
Mahecic said most of the refugees are being relocated to a transit center some 90 kilometers from the border. He noted some of the new arrivals remain at the border, waiting for their families to cross.
The spokesman told VOA the UNHCR already has deployed emergency teams to Zambia to monitor the crisis and provide aid.
“There was an earlier influx of which we spoke about some weeks ago, that was - over a day we have seen 500 arrivals in 24 hours and at that point we have deployed additional staff to that area. But, I want to underline there are huge logistical challenges given the remoteness of the area and access,” he said.
Mahecic said the UNHCR is working with the Zambian government and Red Cross to distribute hot meals and identify people with special needs. He said psycho-social support is being provided for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.