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Republic of Congo: Influx of DRC Refugees in Dire Need of Assistance

Approximately 24,000 refugees recently arrived in northern Republic of Congo. They are fleeing serious violence related to conflict in areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is the only organization providing assistance and people are in critical need of food and relief materials from other aid organizations.

"There is no assistance for the refugees – no food, no water, no shelter," says Dr. Salha Issoufou, MSF's emergency coordinator. "The families are scattered along the river, outside."

MSF has begun offering medical care to refugees in Inpfoudou region and the team is urging other humanitarian actors to provide material aid, specifically shelters, and to distribute food. United Nations agencies have announced that they will hold food distributions.

"There is a critical need for additional humanitarian aid here," Dr. Issoufou says. "The local population is already sharing its resources with the waves of refugees that have arrived in the wake of a host of conflicts. They no longer have the resources to respond to this latest wave."

"The primary health problem among the refugees is diarrhea," Dr. Issoufou explains. "They drink river water, which makes them sick. There's malaria, too, because there are a lot of mosquitoes along the river." MSF is setting up mobile clinics at various sites where refugees have gathered and will provide additional support to the Bétou hospital, where the most serious cases are being treated. Wells in several villages must also be repaired to improve access to water. If other aid actors cannot take action quickly, MSF also plans to distribute plastic sheeting, blankets, and mosquito nets.

In late October, fighting occurred in the town of Dongon, in Equateur province, in northwestern DRC. For the last 50 years, two community groups have been in conflict over fishing and land rights between two community groups. One of the group's militia launched an attack on October 29, which led to the deaths of 47 police officers and many civilians. The violence continued to escalate ; the town was occupied for 10 days and hundreds of houses were burned. Thousands of people fled. Some took refuge in the Republic of Congo, while others tried to cross the river to reach the other side of the border. Refugees who gathered at sites close to the frontier are still afraid that their assailants will reach them.

Approximately 30 wounded patients arrived at the Bétou hospital in early November. "One of the doctors at the hospital had surgical skills and was able to treat some of them," Dr. Issoufou says. "The serious cases were referred to better-equipped hospitals, but the wounded died before they could get there. During my evaluation in the village of Landza, I learned that four wounded people had died there."

MSF has donated medicine to several medical facilities and will continue to do so, based on needs at the region's health care facilities.