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Refugees from Democratic Republic of Congo swamp aid agencies

Aid agencies are struggling to cope with the sheer volume of people that have fled fighting in the north western Democratic Republic of Congo. More than 107,000 people have fled Democratic Republic of Congo for the Republic of Congo and Central African Republic. Many more have been uprooted from their homes within the Democratic Republic of Congo itself.

The Central African Republic hosts about 17,000 refugees, settled temporarily in sites near the Ubangi River in the Lobaye region. At least 60 per cent of the refugees are children, many of whom have fled orphanages, according to figures from the United Nations.Organisations based in the northern Republic of Congo have appealed to the international community for help to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.“We fled because we had seen soldiers wounded, houses burned, women raped,” said Charles Banganya. “We have been through all this before in earlier wars and we had no intention of living through the same experience, he told the United Nations news service, IRIN. “You do not wait for death. A wise man can tell the danger from afar. That is why we are in exile now.”

The United Nations refugee agency was asked to aid 35,000 people. But now the number has tripled, head Daniel Roger Tam admitted.Poor transport and a lack of resources mean aid agencies can’t help everybody. “We have insufficient food and non-food items (basins and kitchen utensils) as well as many more things that we have always distributed to these people in their shelters,” the refugee agency chief in Congo noted. The World Food Programme’s regional director for West and Central Africa, Thomas Yanga, also warned that predictions refugees would only stay for a short period of time had been wide of the mark. “We anticipate that the refugees will be there for at least a year,” said Yanga, adding that WFP had responded as quickly as possible. In some areas refugees vastly outnumber local people, who are struggling for food themselves.

Now is the dry season and temperatures drop sharply after the sun goes down. “It is bitterly cold at night,” said Ida. “The children are getting malaria, there is a lot of diarrhoea and some cases of typhoid.” Other refugees talk of several deaths in Zinga.Fighting between the Boba and the Lobala was first reported in late October. There have been longstanding tensions between the communities since at the least the 1940s, but nothing like the kind of violence people have fled recently in places like Dongo, south of Libenge.