Thousands flee violence in central Africa

Clashes in the Democratic Republic of Congo have sent a wave of refugees into neighbouring Zambia.

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    Thousands of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, including many children, have been forced to flee to neighbouring Zambia amid violence in their home country.

    "People are dying; their hands and heads were cut off with machetes," said Kalembe Kasese Edeefonse, who was separated from his wife during the weeks-long trip to Zambia.

    "Pregnant women had their unborn kids cut out of their tummies. They burned our homes, they burned our crops. I said, 'If we stay here we will die.'"

    Amid clashes between Congolese security forces and militia groups, the majority of those fleeing hail from the northern Katanga and Tanganyika regions, according to UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.

    "Some have been displaced more than once, and some even have been refugees in Zambia before and had repatriated in the hope that it would be secure and safe for them to stay, but they have been displaced yet again," UNHCR representative Guilia Ricciarelli Ranaw told Al Jazeera.

    Every day, about 60 to 100 people cross from the Congo into Zambia. About 60 percent are children. The total number of refugees from the Congo in Zambia has reached almost 30,000, according to UNHCR data. 

    Most refugees are taken to the Kenani transit centre in the Nchelenge district, 90km from the border, where the Zambian government works with aid agencies to help them.

    The government and aid groups provide refugees with meals and basic items, such as tents, plastic sheeting, mosquito nets and hygiene kits, along with psychosocial support for survivors of sexual violence.

    If the security situation in Congo continues to decline, humanitarian conditions for refugees in Zambia will come under increasing pressure. To accommodate the influx, UNHCR has begun building another refugee transit centre and has been working to develop a more permanent settlement. 


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