U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Congo-Brazzaville

Approximately 30,000 citizens of Congo-Brazzaville were refugees or asylum seekers at the end of 2001, including some 17,000 in Gabon, 5,000 in South Africa, about 3,000 in Congo-Kinshasa, and nearly 5,000 new asylum applicants in Western industrialized countries.

An estimated 50,000 people in Congo-Brazzaville remained internally displaced. Up to 30,000 Congolese temporarily became displaced by violence during the year. Fewer than 1,000 refugees returned home to Congo-Brazzaville.

Congo-Brazzaville hosted more than 100,000 refugees at the end of 2001, including approximately 80,000 from Congo-Kinshasa, at least 15,000 from Angola, about 5,000 from Rwanda and Burundi, and nearly 2,000 from Central African Republic.

Political Background

Ethnic-based political violence has destabilized Congo-Brazzaville for almost a decade, although a tenuous peace prevailed during 2000 and 2001.

Following disputed elections in 1993, the country suffered three rounds of armed combat in six years. In 1997, President Sassou-Nguesso, a northerner, overthrew the country's democratically elected leader, Pascal Lissouba, a southerner. Local armed militia groups, as well as government and rebel troops from other African countries, joined in the fighting.

Violence claimed an estimated 20,000 lives by 1999 and displaced as many as 800,000 people – nearly one-third of the country's 2.7 million population. The capital, Brazzaville, was in ruins. However, warring factions signed cease-fire agreements in late 1999, and the peace accord held during 2000-2001 despite the slow pace of disarmament and an isolated eruption of violence in mid-2001.

Congo-Brazzaville adopted a new constitution in late 2001 – reportedly the fourteenth constitution or fundamental legal act in the country's short history. Despite relative peace, "the political situation remains somewhat fragile," a UN humanitarian agency warned late in the year.

Displacement and Reintegration

Congo-Brazzaville continued to make progress toward restoring stability during 2001.

It was unclear how many people remained internally displaced at the end of the year. Some UN humanitarian officials placed the number as high as 150,000, while other sources reported that only a few thousand people remained uprooted inside the country. Up to 30,000 people temporarily fled their homes mid-year because of brief violence in the Pool Region near the capital, but many of them began to return home by August.

Measuring the overall scope of population displacement was difficult because most uprooted families living in Brazzaville were virtually indistinguishable from other residents struggling to rebuild their homes and livelihoods. An estimated 70 percent of all residents of the country's two largest cities lived at or below the poverty line, the government reported.

The UN Development Program complained that international funding for reintegration and reconstruction in Congo-Brazzaville was poor. UN aid agencies received only $12 million of the $34 million requested from international donors.

Although humanitarian aid programs helped reconstruct 75 health centers and 40 schools, many schools still required rehabilitation or equipment, and 40 percent of the country's half-million school-age children did not attend school.

The country's health system remained in ruins, with 60 percent of all health centers closed, according to reports. An epidemic of the potentially fatal sleeping-sickness disease struck along the country's southern border, with infection rates as high as 25 percent at some locations. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported "lack of access to safe drinking water" and noted that "available water sources are often contaminated and are major causes of communicable diseases."

The World Food Program (WFP) provided food aid to 180,000 beneficiaries during the year, while aid projects distributed farming tools and seeds. Development agencies commonly used food-for-work projects to pay local laborers for work on reconstruction projects. "Malnutrition and mortality rates continue to improve," WFP reported late in the year.

Long-term development efforts received a boost when the European Community pledged more than $40 million to promote human rights and democracy and to assist the country's neediest families.

Although an estimated 60,000 Congolese refugees repatriated during 1999-2000, only about 1,000 repatriated during 2001 because of the country's fragile political and economic situation. The governments of Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon, as well as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), signed a three-way agreement during the year to prepare for the voluntary repatriation of up to 17,000 Congolese refugees living in Gabon. Major rehabilitation of the main road connecting the two countries will be necessary before trucks and buses can transport refugees home, UNHCR reported.

UNHCR continued to help returnees from earlier years gain proper identity documents in Congo-Brazzaville to ensure their full access to services and citizenship rights.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Congo-Kinshasa

Approximately 80,000 refugees fleeing warfare in Congo-Kinshasa entered Congo-Brazzaville during 1999-2000. Unknown numbers of new refugees arrived during 2001.

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

Humanitarian aid workers struggled to deliver regular relief supplies to the remote refugee locations. Roads in the refugee zone – primarily marshland and prone to flooding – were poor or nonexistent. UNHCR expanded its fleet of boats to increase aid shipments along the river, while some areas were reachable only by plane. The serious logistical challenges made aid deliveries expensive, and UNHCR suffered staffing shortages that further weakened relief efforts.

The combination of unreliable aid and poor security caused hundreds of refugees to board boats and canoes to migrate southward to safer, more accessible areas. Some managed to reach Brazzaville city. However, combatants from Congo-Kinshasa reportedly ambushed boats along the river, detaining refugee passengers and looting their few possessions. Security along the river reportedly improved late in the year, but a shortage of canoes prevented many refugees from journeying to locations offering better relief services, UNHCR reported.

Three UNHCR field offices in the north assisted the refugee population. The International Rescue Committee also offered relief aid. Refugees accessible to aid workers received plastic sheeting for shelters, blankets, soap, mosquito nets, and utensils for cooking and carrying water. Aid programs also provided farming and fishing equipment, water systems, and some school supplies. However, local authorities restricted the refugees' access to farmland and fishing, undermining the refugee population's attempts to become more self-sufficient.

In a move protested by UNHCR, authorities in Congo-Brazzaville forced 19 asylum seekers back to Congo-Kinshasa in April.

Refugees from Angola

Most of the estimated 15,000 Angolan refugees in Congo-Brazzaville fled at least eight years ago from the northern Angolan enclave of Cabinda, where sporadic political fighting has occurred.

At least two-thirds of the refugee population lived in the city of Pointe-Noire and supported themselves without direct assistance even though the country's damaged economy "renders local integration ... difficult," UNHCR reported.

About 3,000 Angolans resided in three settlements outside Pointe-Noire, where aid projects attempted to bolster their ability to support themselves. Aid consisted of farmland, small loans, business training for women, and training in managing refugee-run health and education facilities. Poor roads hampered access to refugee sites during the rainy season.

As in previous years, UNHCR reported that the presence of Angolan soldiers near refugee sites in Congo-Brazzaville caused protection concerns among the refugee population. About 2,000 Angolan refugees repatriated during 2001.

Refugees from Rwanda and Burundi

Approximately 5,000 refugees and asylum seekers from Rwanda and Burundi remained in Congo-Brazzaville at the end of 2001. Most were Rwandans who had fled their country in 1994 and arrived in Congo-Brazzaville in 1997 after living in Congo-Kinshasa for three years.

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

An additional 1,500 other Rwandans were believed to still live 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.

Refugees from Central African Republic

Nearly 2,000 refugees fleeing political violence in Central African Republic crossed into Congo-Brazzaville during 2001 because of political violence in their own country. The refugees congregated in Brazzaville city and in the Betou and Impfondo areas of the country's remote northern region. UNHCR provided emergency aid to the new arrivals.


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