Like many other refugees from tribal fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Annie had fled to the Likoula region in the north of the Congo Republic, where the population of Nyamoba village has doubled from 1 000 to 2 000.
Fighting back tears, Annie, 37, told her story to a gathering of local officials, relief workers and several journalists.
She arrived in Congo in January when she was pregnant. At the end of April, she crossed back over the Oubangui river into the DR Congo “just to see whether my fields had not been destroyed”.
“On the way back, at least six men in military uniform raped me. I lost my baby, but my life was saved by the grace of God.”
Oscar Amede Ondze, an elder in the village committee, spoke of cases of sexual abuse against two young girls of nine and 13 at the beginning of May.
“The rapists were a refugee of 28 and a local man of 39,” Ondze charged, adding that “both of them are in the hands of the police at Betou”, the main town of the district where Nyamoba lies.
According to a humanitarian co-ordinator for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Isaac Wadbrind Madress, the fund is registering “more and more sexual and sexist violence committed in these sites”.
He was referring to the 92 places where refugees have settled, mostly along the Oubangui river, after fleeing the violence in northern DRC’s Equateur Province. Congolese officials estimate that there are about 120 Complications for victims 000 refugees, who all arrived since last October.
Complications for victims
The UNFPA is working on the ground “to avoid complications for the victims” of sexual assault and is engaged in preventive measures, though nobody has a figure for the number of rape cases.
“It’s young girls and women who are not protected and are victims of these barbaric acts,” Madress said. “There are cases of rape perpetrated by refugees themselves, but also by the local population.”
Until April, the non-governmental organisation Medecins d’Afrique (Doctors of Africa) was treating recurrent pathologies such as malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections.
Since then however, it has sent material to its 15 clinics in the region to help the victims of sexual violence, according to co-ordinator Jean Florent Mbandza.
“We have taken the essential steps to cover health centres” along an axis of 300km, between Likouala’s capital Impfondo, and the town of Liranga, Mbandza said.
Health workers have to treat the trauma suffered by victims of sexual abuse and also watch out for the spread of HIV in the region, where HIV prevalence was estimated at 1.9 percent of the population in 2009, according to a national study.
That rate was below the national average of 3.2 %, which itself had declined from 4.2 percent in 2003).
If sexual abuse continues and there are no preventive measures or a bid to increase the population’s awareness of sexually transmitted diseases, “in the coming five or 10 years, the rate is likely to be higher”, warned Palmer Mathat, the regional health director.
Mathat also warned that tuberculosis was “back in strength” in the Likouala region. AFP