UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is working to relocate thousands of Central African refugees away from dangerous conditions in remote border areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) into safer sites further into the interior.
UNHCR and DRC’s National Refugee Commission (CNR) have signed agreements and started to develop a site for 10,000 refugees in Modale village, near Yakoma in North Ubangi province. A second site is being considered near Ndu in Bas Uele province, and is pending government approval. Work is ongoing to identify two additional sites where more refugees can be moved.
UNHCR and CNR will prepare four relocation sites for some 35,000 refugees to live alongside local communities and grow their own crops, attend local schools, and benefit from other services that serve their Congolese hosts. Settling refugees in local communities will allow them to live with greater dignity and independence.
At the Modale site, UNHCR is setting up new water and sanitation facilities and is planning to expand health and education facilities. The localities selected already have administrative and judicial services, nine primary schools, a secondary school and a health clinic. UNHCR is reinforcing existing services and infrastructure which would struggle to cope with the sudden increase in new arrivals.
Authorities in the DRC estimate that 92,000 refugees have arrived from the Central African Republic (CAR) after election-linked violence erupted in December 2020.
Most Central African refugees are now living along riverbanks in hard-to-reach border areas, among host communities with extremely limited resources. Conditions are dire, with many refugees sleeping in makeshift shelters. Most have little to no access to drinking water, sanitation, or food. Some have been welcomed by host families, sometimes with up to three refugee families living in a single home.
Health needs are becoming increasingly urgent. Joint health evaluation teams of UN agencies, NGOs, and the Provincial Health Division have reported a high risk of a major measles epidemic in refugee hosting areas in North Ubangi. Suspected cases are already being reported among the host communities. The evaluation team has recommended an urgent vaccination drive, as fewer than 30 per cent of refugee children are vaccinated. Further measures to counter the spread of COVID are also needed.
So far, nearly 40,000 refugees have been biometrically registered by UNHCR teams. Our teams are assisting more than 4,500 particularly vulnerable refugees, including unaccompanied and separated children, at-risk women, people with disabilities and serious medical conditions. We are also providing support to some 80 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, including cases of child marriages. All these incidents are reported to have occurred in CAR.
As the needs of thousands of Central African refugees continue to increase, so do the funding requirements. Funds for UNHCR’s humanitarian response are already critically low and under severe pressure due to the needs of both refugees and the host communities. UNHCR is appealing ( https://reporting.unhcr.org/node/30262 ) for US$164.7 million to deliver critical protection and assistance to the displaced Central Africans.