Last Updated: Monday, 23 October 2017, 15:25 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Congo-Brazzaville

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Congo-Brazzaville , 1 June 2003, available at: [accessed 23 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Nearly 25,000 citizens of Congo-Brazzaville were refugees or asylum seekers at the end of 2002, including about 15,000 in Gabon, some 3,000 in Congo-Kinshasa, and nearly 5,000 asylum applicants in Western industrialized countries.

An estimated 100,000 people in Congo-Brazzaville were internally displaced at year's end, including tens of thousands who were newly uprooted by violence during 2002.

Nearly 120,000 refugees from other countries lived in Congo-Brazzaville at the end of 2002, including an estimated 80,000 from Congo-Kinshasa, up to 30,000 from Angola, some 5,000 from Rwanda, and 3,000 from Central African Republic.

Political Background

Political violence rooted in ethnic and regional tensions as well as personal power struggles has destabilized Congo-Brazzaville for a decade. A tenuous peace during 2000–2001 gave way to renewed violence during 2002.

Disputed elections in 1993 ushered in three rounds of armed combat during 1993–99. In 1997, President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, originating from a northern region dominated by ethnic Mbochi, overthrew the country's democratically elected leader, Pascal Lissouba, who originated from a southern area dominated by ethnic Kongo. Local armed militias joined the fighting.

Violence claimed an estimated 20,000 lives by 1999 and displaced up to 800,000 residents – nearly one-third of the country's 2.7 million population.

The capital, Brazzaville, was in ruins. Warring factions signed cease-fire agreements in late 1999 that persuaded several thousand combatants to disarm and led to adoption of a new constitution in 2001.

Although the vast majority of displaced Congolese returned to their homes during 2000–2001, some 50,000 people remained internally displaced and 30,000 Congolese refugees refused to repatriate because the political situation was still unpredictable.

New violence erupted in March 2002 when government security forces allegedly attempted to detain a militia leader whose followers continued to resist disarmament.

The militia, known as the Ninjas, ambushed civilians and battled government forces for the rest of the year in the Pool region of southern Congo-Brazzaville, near the capital city. Ninjas mounted a short-lived attack on Brazzaville city in June.

The government army used helicopter gun-ships to attack insurgent-controlled villages. Combatants on both sides committed widespread human rights violations, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The civilian death toll in the year's violence remained unknown, but was believed to be extensive.

New Population Displacement

The outbreak of violence during March-April immediately forced 50,000 or more people from their homes in the Pool region. Many fled to the homes of friends and relatives in Brazzaville, but thousands headed into nearby forests beyond the reach of humanitarian aid.

A second wave of displacement occurred in June when insurgents known as Ninjas attacked Brazzaville; at least 10,000 people fled to churches and schools for shelter.

A third wave of violence, on the outskirts of Brazzaville in October, displaced an additional 10,000 or more people. Smaller numbers of people fled during other months of the year.

Combatants on all sides manipulated the civilian population.

Insurgents aggressively forced residents to leave some villages while deliberately preventing other civilians from fleeing. Government troops forced some displaced persons to return home against their will in order to participate in national elections in June; government soldiers at other sites suspected uprooted people of being rebel sympathizers and prevented them from foraging for food.

Unidentified assailants abducted boys from displacement camps, according to UN human rights officials.

General insecurity prevented humanitarian organizations from reaching two-thirds of the displaced population for much of the year. Some individuals died of starvation, according to a partial assessment of the Pool region by UN officials in mid-year.

Child malnutrition ranged from 10 to 30 percent at many displacement sites, and uprooted families trapped in forests survived on wild fruits and cassava roots.

The World Food Program (WFP) – desperate to reach inaccessible populations – air-dropped food to 2,000 people in June. WFP, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and other relief agencies managed to provide medicine and blankets to about 80,000 beneficiaries by year's end.

Gunmen abducted two ICRC aid workers in December.

Relief workers labored under severe financial constraints. UN agencies appealed to international donor nations for $35 million to address humanitarian needs in Congo-Brazzaville, but received about one-third that amount.

General Refugee Protection

The 120,000 refugees from other countries who lived in Congo-Brazzaville during 2002 faced an array of serious protection problems: the country's armed insurgency, a heavily damaged national economy, a poor transportation system for relief supplies, and restrictions imposed by government authorities.

UN relief workers struggled to conduct programs while operating under heightened UN security procedures that limited their travel and staffing levels. "Security is [a] major constraint, frequently interrupting the movement of staff to refugee sites," the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported in September.

Thousands of refugees from Angola and Congo-Kinshasa were unreachable. Cross-border raids by armed combatants from Congo-Kinshasa into northern Congo-Brazzaville forcibly recruited Congolese refugees into combat or menial labor and raped refugee women. UNHCR transferred ethnic Tutsi Congolese refugees from Brazzaville to Pointe-Noire for their safety.

The presence of Angolan government soldiers in border areas of southern Congo-Brazzaville posed a threat to Angolan refugees in that area. Armed elements – some of them believed to be complicit in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda – continued to live among the Rwandan refugee population, UNHCR reported.

Government officials blocked many refugees from traveling without proper documentation, which the government had not yet issued. The travel restrictions hampered refugees from Congo-Kinshasa who attempted to reach relief sites and blocked refugees from Angola and Congo-Kinshasa as they sought to earn money at local markets.

UNHCR expressed concern that the government's failure to issue proper identity documents seriously harmed refugees' ability to support themselves at a time when relief programs were undependable. UNHCR and government officials made plans to issue identity cards to refugees living in Pointe-Noire as the year ended.

Refugees from Congo-Kinshasa

Approximately 80,000 refugees fleeing warfare in Congo-Kinshasa entered Congo-Brazzaville during 1999–2000 and remained there during 2002.

The vast majority of refugees lived scattered along a 300-mile (500 km) stretch of river in northern Congo-Brazzaville, where they remained vulnerable to violence that occasionally spilled across the border from neighboring Congo-Kinshasa.

Humanitarian aid workers struggled to deliver relief supplies to remote refugee areas located amid forests, swamps, and marshland prone to annual flooding. Roads in refugee zones were poor or non-existent, often requiring transport by small boat. Airplanes carrying relief supplies utilized primitive and sometimes dangerous airstrips to reach refugee locations.

UNHCR constructed a new landing strip at the northernmost refugee site, Betou, but the agency's aging fleet of vehicles and boats hampered mobility.

Despite the constraints, aid agencies provided food, clothes, agricultural assistance, and small business loans to much of the refugee population. Some 13,000 refugee children attended more than 40 schools, using the educational curriculum of their home country.

More than 70 refugee business cooperatives made furniture, soap, palm oil, and other items to sell locally.

As in previous years, refugees' efforts to support themselves by farming and fishing created tensions with local landowners. Government officials and UNHCR attempted to calm tensions by negotiating agreements allowing refugees to rent land from local communities.

Refugees from Angola

Most of the estimated 30,000 Angolan refugees in Congo-Brazzaville fled nine years ago from the northern Angolan enclave of Cabinda because of sporadic political fighting.

Despite an apparent end to Angola's civil war during 2002, few refugees returned home from Congo-Brazzaville because of continuing tensions in their home Cabinda region.

Most Angolan refugees lived in or near the city of Point Noire in the southwest corner of Congo-Brazzaville, where the majority supported themselves, barely, without direct assistance.

About half remained unregistered and uncounted in official refugee statistics.

The country's ravaged economy limited employment opportunities for the refugee population.

UNHCR supported programs that helped refugees earn incomes raising sheep and pigs, tending a fruit orchard, and operating bakeries.

In recognition of refugees' economic difficulties, government officials reduced school fees for refugee students in urban areas.

Relief workers repaired a refugee school and health center during 2002 and provided food aid to 2,000 to 3,000 of the neediest Angolans. Poor roads hampered access to refugee sites during the rainy season.

Refugees from Rwanda

About 5,000 refugees and asylum seekers from Rwanda remained in Congo-Brazzaville at the end of 2002. They were ethnic Hutu who fled their country in 1994, lived in Congo-Kinshasa for more than two years, and trekked more than 700 miles (1,100 km) across Congo-Kinshasa to escape ethnic Tutsi Rwandan soldiers who were pursuing them.

Nearly 3,000 Rwandans resided in a refugee camp in Kintele, 15 miles (25 km) north of Brazzaville. Some 2,000 lived in 16 villages in the Loukolela area, 300 miles (500 km) north of the capital, where they supported themselves without assistance.

An additional 1,000 or more Rwandans lived in Congo-Brazzaville without refugee status. A UNHCR screening process in 1999 concluded that they were probably former Rwandan soldiers or militia members complicit in their country's 1994 genocide.

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