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UNHCR to relocate thousands of Central African refugees to safer places

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UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, is working to move thousands of Central African refugees away from dangerous conditions in remote border areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to safer sites more in the interior.

UNHCR and the DRC’s National Refugee Commission (CNR) have signed agreements and started to develop a site for 10,000 refugees in the village of Modale, near Yakoma, in North Ubangi province. A second site is being considered near Ndu, in Bas Uele province, and is awaiting government approval. Work is underway to identify two additional sites where more refugees can be moved.

UNHCR and CNR will prepare four resettlement sites for some 35,000 refugees to live alongside local communities and cultivate their own crops, attend local schools and benefit from other services to serve their Congolese hosts. Settling refugees in local communities will allow them to live with more dignity and independence.

At the Modale site, UNHCR is setting up new water and sanitation facilities and plans to expand health and education facilities. The selected localities already have administrative and judicial services, nine primary schools, a high school and a dispensary. UNHCR is strengthening existing services and infrastructure that would struggle to cope with the sudden increase in new arrivals.

DRC authorities estimate that 92,000 refugees arrived from the Central African Republic (CAR) after election-related violence erupted in December 2020.

Most Central African refugees now live along the banks of rivers in difficult-to-access border areas, in host communities with extremely limited resources. Conditions are dire, with many refugees sleeping in makeshift shelters. Most have little or no access to clean water, sanitation or food. Some have been hosted by host families, sometimes up to three refugee families living in one house.

The health needs are more and more urgent. Joint health assessment teams from United Nations agencies, NGOs and the Provincial Health Division have reported a high risk of a major measles outbreak in the refugee hosting areas of North Ubangi. Suspicious cases are already reported in host communities. The evaluation team recommended an urgent vaccination campaign, as less than 30% of refugee children are vaccinated. Additional 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 helping more than 4,500 particularly vulnerable refugees, including unaccompanied and separated children, women at risk, people with disabilities and serious health problems. We are also providing support to some 80 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, including cases of child marriage. All these incidents are said to have occurred in CAR.

As the needs of thousands of Central African refugees continue to increase, so do the funding needs. Funding for UNHCR’s humanitarian response is already extremely low and under great pressure due to the needs of refugees and host communities. UNHCR is appealing (https://reporting.unhcr.org/node/30262) for US $ 164.7 million to provide essential protection and assistance to displaced Central Africans.

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