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Update No. 96/14 on ICRC activities related to the Zairian crisis

13-12-1996 Operational Update

Light is gradually being shed on the whereabouts of large groups of Rwandan and Burundian refugees still remaining in eastern Zaire. After having located some 11,000 refugees (90% of whom are Rwandan and 10% Burundian) in Shabunda, about mid-way between Bukavu and Kindu, on 8 December, the ICRC has received information that groups of refugees and displaced totalling well over 100,000 people are in the areas around Shabunda and nearby Katshungu.

The ICRC's ongoing refugee counts show that between 2,000 and 3,000 people, mostly family units, are arriving daily at a site five kilometres east of Shabunda, accessible only by bicycle and dugout. As of this morning, some 23,000 refugees had arrived. The ICRC expects that in the days and weeks ahead refugees in the area will continue to move towards, and gather at, Shabunda. Among the refugees are 260 unaccompanied children who fled their orphanage, run by the Belgian Red Cross in Bukavu, when the fighting started. Most of the Rwandan refugees in Shabunda have said that they want to return Rwanda as soon as it is safe to do so. However, although they are prepared to walk back if necessary, they refuse to go through the Bukavu region.

Reports confirmed by missionaries in the area indicate that other large groups of refugees are moving along the road leading from Katshungu to Shabunda. As yet unconfirmed information about very large numbers of refugees between Bukavu and the Shabunda area has also been received.

An ICRC team which flew to Lubutu on 11 December was unable to land in the town because the runway was crowded with people. However, estimates based on aerial observations indicate that large numbers of people are gathered seven kilometres west of Lubutu along the road to Kisangani. Today the ICRC will make a second attempt to land at Lubutu and evaluate the situation.

Faced with the masses of refugees, the ICRC is extremely concerned that urgent efforts should be made to find long-term solutions before new camps are established. Consequently, the ICRC aims to provide only'light'food assistance, such as biscuits and dried fish, to use mobile medical teams rather than to set up hospitals, and to avoid construction work concentrated in one particular spot.

The ICRC has opened two health posts in Shabunda and two in the refugee site, and is providing basic medicines for the general hospital and two dispensaries. Biscuits and three tonnes of maize flour have been distributed as emergency assistance. An ICRC tracing office and special centres for orphans and unaccompanied children have been established, as have minimum sanitary facilities.

In Shabunda the ICRC has registered some 2,500 Zairian displaced, whom it is supplying with food rations. The local population, which is suffering from the influx of refugees and displaced, is being assisted with food and other items.

Zairian displaced in Kindu and Kalima are also being assisted by the ICRC. In Kalima, 400 displaced at four ICRC sites are being supported through a church organization. In Kindu, food is being distributed daily to some 660 displaced, some of whom live at sites that are being equipped with mattresses, jerrycans and kitchen material. More displaced people are arriving daily in Kindu from the Goma region.

In Kalemie, the ICRC has been permitted to supply food relief for some 13,000 Zairian displaced. The delegation is still waiting for authorization to go north of Kalemie, since there are unconfirmed reports of more victims of the conflict in the areas west of Baraka and Fizi.

The IC RC teams in Goma, Bukavu and Uvira continued to carry out their water and sanitation activities and to provide medical assistance. In particular, the ICRC in Goma supplies all three hospitals with medical equipment and drugs, and is active in 15 health centres and the three hospitals in Kirotshe, Rutshuru and Masisi. Assistance is given as needed to hospitals in Katana and Walungu, both near Bukavu, and to the general hospital in Bukavu itself. Ten health centres in Bukavu are also being supported. In Uvira, the ICRC assists the surgery unit of the hospital and ten dispensaries.

Although it is still very difficult to obtain authorization to move outside the three cities, the ICRC was able to bring back to Bukavu by truck some 2,000 Zairian displaced who had been located 30 kilometres west of the town, along the road to Walikale.

 Logistics  

To support its activities on the ground, an ICRC-chartered Hercules cargo plane is currently flying from Nairobi via Kisangani to Kindu. Efforts are being made to obtain authorization to fly directly from Nairobi to Kindu, Kalima and Kalemie. Cargo shuttle flights using small aircraft (Beechcraft, DC3 and Twin-Otter) will bring supplies to smaller towns whose landing strips are too short for the Hercules. Food coming from Lubumbashi is being transported to Kindu and Kalemie by train. Three wagons with 120 tonnes of food and other assistance left Lubumbashi for Kindu, as did two wagons carrying 80 tonnes destined for Kalemie.