Central African Republic: Thousands Seek Refuge in DR Congo

Displaced children

The U.N. refugee agency reports an uptick in fighting in south-eastern Central African Republic has driven more than 7.000 people to abandon their homes and seek refuge in a remote area in DR Congo over the past week.

The U.N. refugee agency describes the refugees as desperate, weary and in urgent need of assistance. UNHCR spokesman William Spindler says thousands of people, mainly women and children, have fled over difficult terrain to escape violence in Central African Republic.

He says the refugees have arrived in the remote village of Kanzawi in DR Congo's northern Bas-Uele province, which is inundated with tens of thousands of refugees from previous outbursts of fighting.

"The refugees have reported fleeing fighting between two Anti-Balaka groups in the area of Kouango, just across the border. It is the latest of a series of refugee movements into northern DRC. In less than a year, the number of CAR refugees in DRC has grown from around 102,000 to more than 182,000 not including the latest arrivals," said Spindler.

In December 2012, the Seleka, a coalition of largely Muslim groups toppled the CAR government. The Anti-Balaka, composed primarily of Christians and animists, formed to counter the brutality of the Seleka.

U.N. agencies report CAR's civil war has displaced nearly 700,000 and caused almost one-half million people to seek refuge in neighboring countries. Spindler says the current exodus is adding to the already heavy refugee burden.

"We are particularly worried about the situation of elderly people, pregnant women and others with specific needs. There is only one water source in Kanzawi village, forcing people to drink from the river. Most of the refugees are sleeping in the open, others in public buildings," he said.

Spindler says these people are in urgent need of the most basic support. Unfortunately, he says the UNHCR's ability to provide emergency aid is extremely limited as it has received only 16 percent of the money it needs to care for refugees in DRC.

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