Central Africa: Refugee Update, 10/04/01

Central Africa: Refugee Update, 10/04/01

Central Africa: Refugee Update Date distributed (ymd): 011004 Document reposted by APIC

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Region: Central Africa Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+


This set of two postings contains an update from the U.S. Committee for Refugees on the situation of refugees and internally displaced people in central and east Africa. This posting includes the overview and additional details on several countries in central Africa. Another posting today contains details on several countries in east Africa. The detailed country sections are here abridged for length. The full report can be found on the U.S. Committee for Refugees web site at

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Contact: Jeff Drumtra 202-347-3507 http://


More than a half-million people fled their homes because of violence during the first nine months of 2001 in Central Africa and the Horn of Africa, according to analysis by the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR).

An estimated quarter-million people have become newly uprooted so far this year in Congo-Kinshasa, according to field reports by international relief agencies. Some 150,000 or more people fled their homes in Sudan during January to September. An estimated 100,000 people in Burundi have become newly displaced or new refugees. Violence in Central African Republic and Somalia has forced 60,000 and 15,000 people to flee in those countries, respectively.

Approximately 9 million people were already refugees or internally displaced in Central Africa and the Horn of Africa before 2001. Events during the first three-quarters of 2001 have added 570,000 newly uprooted people in those troubled regions of a troubled continent.

"Peace has not yet become the norm in much of Central and East Africa," said Jeff Drumtra, senior Africa policy analyst for USCR. "War, civil violence, and fear still dominate the lives of too many people, whose only recourse is to leave everything behind and flee. International diplomats like to boast that peace negotiations are progressing in Congo-Kinshasa, Sudan, and Burundi, but for too many families there the terror and daily misery have not changed a bit."

This year's massive population upheavals in Africa have been relatively ignored by the international media and most world leaders.

"The international community at this moment is fixated on the possibility that hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan might flee their homes in coming weeks. It is a legitimate concern. But more than a half-million people have already fled their homes in Central Africa and the Horn of Africa in recent months because of wars that are already happening. A vast number of these uprooted people in Africa receive virtually no humanitarian assistance, or they have experienced cutbacks this year in the modest amounts of relief aid that reaches them," Drumtra said.

Aid to uprooted populations in Africa and elsewhere has suffered cutbacks in recent years. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, for example, has received only about $600 million of the $874 million it requires this year to assist refugees worldwide even before the heightened concerns about Afghanistan. The budget proposed by the Bush Administration for FY 2002--still under consideration in Congress--would cut U.S. funding for overseas refugee assistance by $5 million.


BURUNDI UPDATE: FIRST NINE MONTHS OF 2001 (Updated by USCR October, 2001)


A civil war that began in the early-1990s has intensified in recent years, leaving more than 100,000 Burundians dead. Ethnic Hutu rebels continue to fight against the country's ethnic Tutsi-dominated government and military. Former South African President Nelson Mandela has attempted to mediate negotiations for peace.

At the beginning of 2001, more than a million Burundians were uprooted from their homes, including 400,000 Burundian refugees in neighboring countries and an estimated 600,000 internally displaced persons.

Political / Military / Human Rights Developments through September

Mandela announced in July that peace negotiations had produced agreement on a three-year transitional government in which Tutsi and Hutu leaders would share power beginning in November. Two main Hutu rebel groups did not participate in the agreement and vowed to continue fighting. Numerous Tutsi and Hutu political leaders criticized the accord, leaving many Burundians and international diplomats to doubt the depth of support for the agreement. Several African countries, including Nigeria and South Africa, indicated a willingness to deploy peacekeeping troops to Burundi to help bolster the accord. Burundian officials debated how best to protect politicians returning from exile to participate in the transitional government.

Rebel attacks and ambushes gained strength during the first nine months of the year, particularly in southern, eastern, central, and western areas of Burundi. ...

Analysts expressed concern that a peace accord in neighboring Congo-Kinshasa was inadvertently pushing Burundian rebels from their bases in Congo-Kinshasa and into Burundi. The Burundian government continued to charge that Burundian rebels were using refugee camps in Tanzania as military bases, creating tensions between the two governments. Burundi's president warned of an "almost open state of war" along the Burundi-Tanzania border. A UN Security Council team lamented the "complexity and intractability" of the Burundian conflict.

New Uprooted Populations through September

An estimated 100,000 or more Burundians newly fled their homes during the first three-quarters of 2001. ...

Humanitarian Conditions through September

General humanitarian conditions remained bad during the first nine months of 2001. Economic conditions in the capital continued to deteriorate, fueling increased crime. In rural areas, local harvests were as small as 5 percent of pre-war levels because of poor rains, population displacement, and insecurity. ...

UN humanitarian agencies appealed to international donors for $102 million to assist Burundians in 2001. Only about $16 million had been donated by May. The funding shortfall, combined with security problems, left "urgent" needs unaddressed for health care, drinking water, and nutrition, UN aid officials warned. ...

An estimated 600,000 Burundians were believed to be internally displaced as of September 2001. This included some 380,000 at 210 displacement sites, plus approximately 200,000 other displaced persons who lived with friends, families, or on their own beyond the reach of aid programs. ...



The Central African Republic suffered numerous mutinies by its military in the mid-1990s against the country's democratically elected government. Rounds of violence displaced tens of thousands of people in the country's capital, Bangui. UN peacekeeping troops helped restore order and remained in the country until 2000. The country avoided significant violence or new population displacement during 1998-2000 despite continued political tensions.

At the beginning of 2001, the Central Africa Republic was producing relatively few refugees or internally displaced persons. The country hosted about 55,000 refugees from neighboring countries.

Political / Military / Human Rights Developments through September

General Andre Kolingba, a former president of the country, launched a surprise coup attempt against democratically elected President Ange-Felix Patasse in May. Pro-government forces defeated the coup attempt and retaliated against Kolingba's Yakoma ethnic group. The capital suffered heavy damage and hundreds of deaths in ten days of fighting. Atrocities and other human rights abuses continued in July before diminishing in August and September. Armed crime in the capital and on highways increased after the coup attempt because of the proliferation of weapons.

A report by the UN Secretary General characterized the coup attempt as "wholly unexpected" despite severe political and economic tensions preceding the coup effort. Soldiers involved in the coup attempt fled to neighboring Congo-Kinshasa, where they posed a "legitimate concern" to security in the region, the UN Secretary General warned in September. The same UN report noted "sharp political tensions, further economic decline, simmering social tension, and a troubling lack of security" in the aftermath of the violence.

New Uprooted Populations through September

An estimated 60,000 to 80,000 residents of Bangui fled their homes during the May coup attempt and subsequent retaliations. More than half of the displaced population were children under the age of 15, according to government figures. ...

By mid-July, between 10,000 and 40,000 people had returned to their homes even though smaller numbers of residents continued to flee anew because of continued atrocities against the Yakoma population. Most of those who remained uprooted during August-September were believed to be Yakoma who feared retribution if they returned home. ...

Humanitarian Conditions through September

Humanitarian conditions were difficult in many areas of Bangui after the violence. Additional damage caused by heavy rains and flooding aggravated the situation. The coup attempt temporarily blocked Bangui's main highway, causing a food shortage. Many displaced families were exposed to heavy rains before they could find shelter. Residents of nearby towns and neighborhoods struggled to supply food, drinking water, and medicines to the displaced persons in their midst. ...

The 20,000 to 25,000 Bangui residents who fled to Congo-Kinshasa to live as refugees congregated in the Congolese town of Zongo--about a mile from Bangui--where they faced "extremely difficult conditions," UNHCR reported. Some 15,000 refugees continued to live in Zongo in September, some 10,000 others lived in scattered Congolese villages along the border between the two countries, and 3,000 refugees moved deeper into Congo-Kinshasa, away from the border. ...

The short but intense violence in Central African Republic "wiped out" economic gains of the past five years, according to the country's prime minister. The coup attempt and large-scale population upheaval "will without a doubt have catastrophic consequences for an already fragile economy," the UN Secretary General stated in July. "There is no question that it is poverty the breeding ground for the instability experienced by the Central African Republic...."

The government of the Central African Republic requested $95 million in aid for emergency relief, development and rehabilitation projects, and reintegration of uprooted people. International donor countries responded with only meager funding as of September. ...



Nearly a decade of politically motivated ethnic violence killed an estimated 20,000 people and displaced as many as 800,000 persons in Congo-Brazzaville during the 1990s. A 1999 cease-fire returned the country to a tenuous peace and allowed the vast majority of uprooted Congolese to return to their homes.

At the beginning of 2001, about 20,000 Congolese remained refugees in neighboring countries. Despite its own political and economic problems, Congo-Brazzaville hosted some 120,000 refugees from other African countries, primarily from Congo-Kinshasa and Angola.

Political / Military / Human Rights Developments through September

Congo-Brazzaville's fragile peace continued to hold during the first nine months of 2001. "Peace has been restored in villages where war once prevailed," President Sassou-Nguesso stated in September.

The government conducted a "national dialogue" to draft a new constitution. Groups opposed to the president refused to participate. The national parliament adopted the new constitution in September. Citizens are scheduled to vote in a referendum on the new constitution in late 2001. ...

The country's economically important Congo River reopened to commercial traffic in May after regional violence forced its closure for nearly three years.

New Uprooted Populations through September

Most citizens of Congo-Brazzaville continued the gradual process of reintegration and reconstruction during the first nine months of 2001. Approximately 150,000 persons remained internally displaced as of July, according to UN estimates. About 20,000 Congolese refugees remained outside the country despite growing interest in facilitating organized voluntary repatriation for them. ...

Congo-Brazzaville continued to host up to 90,000 refugees from Congo-Kinshasa as of September. ...

Humanitarian Conditions through September

Humanitarian agencies ended most emergency relief programs in early 2001 and switched to rehabilitation and development assistance. An estimated 150,000 internally displaced Congolese were able to support themselves and no longer required special emergency aid, relief agencies concluded.

Previously uprooted citizens of Congo-Brazzaville struggled to reconstruct their homes, businesses, and the country's social services. The country's health system remained in ruins--60 percent of all health centers were closed, according to some reports. Medecins Sans Frontieres reported increased levels of potentially fatal sleeping sickness. ...

Reconstruction aid from international donors was meager. UNICEF, for example, received only $1 million in funding through September for programs requiring $4.9 million. UNICEF repaired and re-equipped 58 health centers and announced plans to repair 20 schools out of 1,700 schools needing of rehabilitation. ...



Congo-Kinshasa is often considered to be Africa's most strategically important country because it is geographically the second largest country in Africa, is one of the continent's five largest in population size, borders nine countries, and contains immense deposits of gold, diamonds, and other lucrative natural resources.

Congo-Kinshasa has suffered warfare since 1998, involving armies from eight African countries and at least seven other armed groups. International observers have characterized the war in Congo as "a continent-wide free-for-all." Congolese rebels and their allies loosely control one-third to one-half of the country. The war follows three decades of corrupt mismanagement by former President Mobutu Sese Seko, who was ousted from power in 1997. Many areas of the immense country have been cut off from outside aid for three years.

At the beginning of 2001, an estimated 2.1 million Congolese were uprooted from their homes, including approximately 1.8 million internally displaced persons and some 350,000 Congolese refugees in other countries. Some 270,000 refugees from neighboring countries lived in Congo-Kinshasa despite its war.

Political / Military / Human Rights Developments through September

A fragile peace process made progress during the first nine months of 2001. Congolese President Joseph Kabila, who took power when his father, President Laurent Kabila, was assassinated in January, demonstrated a stronger commitment to the peace process. Preparations continued throughout August and September for a key meeting of Congolese groups, known as the Inter-Congolese Dialogue, scheduled for mid-October. "There is clear, visible progress" in the peace process, a UN peacekeeping official stated in September.

Major armies adhered to a cease-fire in many areas, although increasingly serious violations occurred in September. Most armies pulled back from frontline positions. Government armies from Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda partially withdrew troops from Congolese territory but did not comply with UN resolutions calling for their total withdrawal. Namibia completed the withdrawal of virtually all its troops. Some 2,300 UN military observers and peacekeeping troops extended their deployment to more than 20 locations to monitor the cease-fire. Congolese authorities disarmed 3,000 ethnic Hutu Rwandan combatants aligned with the government and turned them over to UN officials.

Despite the official cease-fire, extensive violence by militia and other unofficial armed groups persisted in some regions, particularly in eastern Congo. ... "Even though the war along the conventional frontline has more or less ceased, eastern [Congo] has suffered an increase in violence," a report by Oxfam/Great Britain and other aid agencies noted in August. ...

New Uprooted Populations through September

Approximately a quarter-million Congolese became newly uprooted between November 2000 and May 2001, UN humanitarian officials estimated. ...

A UN report in September estimated that three years of war had left approximately 2 million persons internally displaced in Congo-Kinshasa, including about a million people in eastern Congo's North Kivu and South Kivu Provinces, which were occupied by indigenous rebel forces as well as troops from Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi. ... Approximately 330,000 Congolese were refugees in other countries.

By September, Congo-Kinshasa was Africa's second largest source of uprooted people. About one-sixth of all uprooted people on the continent were Congolese.

Humanitarian Conditions through September

A thorough assessment of humanitarian conditions in Congo-Kinshasa remained difficult because large areas of the country were still inaccessible to regular visits by international relief officials. Humanitarian agencies had access to less than half of the country's displaced population in August because of security concerns. ...

A report in August by three international relief agencies warned that "many Congolese are hovering on the brink between life and death," with "appalling levels of hunger, disease, ...death, and...countless abuses of human rights." Some 16 million people--one-third of the population--needed substantial food assistance, the report said. Up to 30 percent of children were severely malnourished at some locations, according to aid workers. Death rates among children reached 11 per day per 10,000 children in some parts of southern Congo's Katanga province, the UN World Food Program (WFP) reported in September. ...


Message-Id: <> From: "Africa Action" <> Date: Thu, 4 Oct 2001 14:11:41 -0500 Subject: Central Africa: Refugee Update

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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