A new mother’s flight to safety in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Publié: 15 juillet 2013 13:36 CET

By Mirabelle Enaka, IFRC

It was a happy occasion when, earlier this year, Victoire Ngouka gave birth to twins. But the 21-year-old new mother did not have much time to settle in with her little ones in her village of Ntongba in Central African Republic. A little over one week later, she was scooping them in her arms and fleeing for safety as rebel forces entered her tiny community.

“My twins were barely a week old when the town was invaded by rebel forces,” says Victoire. Forced to flee, Victory followed her adoptive parents and thousands of others across the nearby border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Today, Victoire lives on the sandbanks of the Ubangi River in Mobayi-Mbongo with thousands of other refugees. She is able to feed her babies with her breast milk, but with an inconsistent diet, much-needed nutrients are not being passed on.

“I have not been registered with UNHCR and the children have not received any support like food or vaccinations,” says Victory with tears in her eyes. Because she has not yet been registered, Victoire and her children are not able to access the food rations that are being distributed.

More than 40,000 people have fled from Central African Republic into DRC over the past year. Although there is a UN camp where consistent support would be provided, many are choosing to live along the Ubangi River as it is close to their home and they are able to fish and supplement their diet. Their needs are huge. If they have not settled with host families, they are living in temporary shelters made of wood and branches. They drink and bathe using water from the contaminated river, which is also now serving as a latrine. Malaria and waterborne diseases, such as diarrhoea and skin diseases, are rampant.

The scarce medical facilities which do exist have been overwhelmed by the influx of refugees. And with the rains now falling, living conditions have become even more precarious.

“We have mobilized more than 8,500 volunteers to provide the maximum amount of assistance to these extremely vulnerable people,” says Jacques Zama, committee president of the Mobayi-Mbongo branch of the Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Assessments are being done and we are focusing on meeting the most immediate and pressing needs.”

Staff and volunteers at the local Red Cross will implement a wide range of activities, including the provision of shelter, conducting awareness sessions in communities on proper hygiene and disease prevention, reuniting families who were separated during their flight to safety, and improving access to safe water and latrines.

These activities are being funded through an emergency appeal launched by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The appeal, worth 1,122,910 Swiss francs, will support 15,000 Central African Republic refugees over six months.