Congo Refugees Mostly Women and Children

13/3/2010 - Thousand have fled from the fighting in the DRC into the neighbouring Congo Brazzaville. Most of them are women and children.

More than 120 000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have fled to the Congo Brazzaville to escape the most recent outbreak of ethnic violence in the country’s Equateur province. According to the United Nations, more than 80% of the refugees are women and children.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is set to air lift food supplies to the refugees. Since November, the WFP has been delivering food aid to 59 000 people—most of them women and children. At its current capacity, the WFP will be able to feed 100 000 of the refugees for the next two weeks.

This most recent bout of ethnic violence was reportedly sparked by disagreements over fishing and farming rights between the Enyele and Munzaya tribes. Though the government quickly sent in a force of soldiers to quell the violence, 270 people were killed. 187 of them were civilians.

The problems of armed violence and ethnic tensions in the DRC are not easy to describe. Not only has the country had to grapple with its own civil war that lasted from after independence from Belgium in 1960 to 2003, but regional ethnic tensions continue to occur sporadically. The residue of the Ugandan civil war and 1994 Rwandan Genocide continue to impact the country’s civil and political instability, as rebel fighters from both countries continue cross the borders of the DRC.

The flow of people across the Congo Brazzaville border has stressed the local environment, as the local residents and refugees compete for scarce food and water resources. In fact, the exodus from the DRC has doubled the population across the border. The Congo Brazzaville is a small country—about 342 000 square kilometres—with a population numbering just over 4 million.

Half of the population lives in abject poverty, or less than $1.25 a day. Children are an especially vulnerable group in need of protection, as half of the population is also under the age of 18. Most children live in poverty and, with the exception of universal primary education for both boys and girls, the country is not on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals. The number one cause of death for adults and children over five is HIV/AIDS. Because of this, tens of thousands of children are AIDS orphans. They are left to fend for themselves on the streets, unshielded from abduction and recruitment into illicit trafficking industries for child labour, sexual exploitation and drugs.