UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has raised concern about growing violence in parts of south-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has driven more than 3,360 refugees into northern Zambia since 30 August.
This is the largest influx of Congolese refugees into Zambia in the past five years. UNHCR is worried that the insecurity in the DRC may lead to further displacement.
The refugees and asylum-seekers are escaping inter-ethnic clashes, as well as fighting between Congolese security forces and militia groups. Those arriving in Zambia report extreme brutality, with civilians being killed, women raped, property looted and houses set alight. They are mainly from the DRC provinces of Haut-Katanga and Tanganyika.
Many were already displaced internally before they crossed the border. The lack of roads and the long distances at the areas from where they are fleeing make it difficult to monitor the situation and provide them with assistance. With the rainy season approaching, UNHCR warns that the humanitarian needs of those displaced could intensify on both sides of the border.
Some 60 per cent of those arriving in Zambia are children. Many show signs of malnutrition. Malaria, respiratory problems, dysentery and skin infections are common among the refugees, who are in urgent need of protection and life-saving support. After they are registered by the Zambian authorities, most are relocated to the Kenani transit centre in Nchelenge district, about 90 kilometres from the border. Some of the new arrivals remain close to the border, waiting for their families to cross.
The Zambian government, UNHCR and the Zambian Red Cross are distributing hot meals and identifying those with specific needs, as well as providing psycho-social support for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. The humanitarian response team is delivering basic items, including tents, plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, blankets, buckets, hygiene kits and soap. Temporary shelters are being erected, boreholes are being drilled for drinking water and temporary latrines are being constructed.
Because of overcrowding, UNHCR has started work on a second transit facility to receive the growing number of new arrivals. A more permanent settlement will also be developed, with a social infrastructure where new arrivals will be able to stay for longer and develop some self-sufficiency.
Since the beginning of 2017, about 5,761 Congolese have crossed the border into Zambia. In total, there are 27,338 Congolese refugees and asylum seekers in the country, among a population of 60,606 refugees and asylum seekers.