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Congo Refugees Find Shelter on Islands

About 4,000 people have taken refuge on two islands in Lake Upemba, in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Melody Kokoszka, NPR
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About 4,000 people have taken refuge on two islands in Lake Upemba, in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

A four-year-long civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo officially ended in 2002, but ongoing clashes in the east of the country continue to push tens of thousands of people from their homes.

In the mineral-rich but remote Katanga province, several thousand people have taken refuge on two islands in the middle of a lake.

The refugees are fleeing clashes between Mai Mai fighters and the Congolese Army, which is trying to wipe out the militiamen and regain control over what's been a largely lawless part of Central Africa.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dugout canoes are the main form of transportation on Lake Upemba and the adjacent Congo River.
Photos by Jason Beaubien, NPR /
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Dugout canoes are the main form of transportation on Lake Upemba and the adjacent Congo River.
Some 4,000 people who used to live on the shores of Lake Upemba have fled on to islands in the lake to get away from attacks from the Mai Mai militias. They say they feel safer on the island even though conditions are difficult.
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Some 4,000 people who used to live on the shores of Lake Upemba have fled on to islands in the lake to get away from attacks from the Mai Mai militias. They say they feel safer on the island even though conditions are difficult.
Most of the people who've fled on to Mitala Island are under the age of 18.
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Most of the people who've fled on to Mitala Island are under the age of 18.
The island of Mitala is extremely muddy.  People lay grass or reed mats on top of the ground to form a place to eat and sleep. Everything on the island is wet. And sticky, black mud gets tracked everywhere.
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The island of Mitala is extremely muddy. People lay grass or reed mats on top of the ground to form a place to eat and sleep. Everything on the island is wet. And sticky, black mud gets tracked everywhere.
Fish is the main source of food for people living on the islands in Lake Upemba.  The islands are almost like swamps.  The ground sinks under your feet and is not very good for growing vegetables.
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Fish is the main source of food for people living on the islands in Lake Upemba. The islands are almost like swamps. The ground sinks under your feet and is not very good for growing vegetables.
The only source of water on the islands for drinking, cooking and bathing is from the murky lake.
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The only source of water on the islands for drinking, cooking and bathing is from the murky lake.
Reeds and dry grass are the two primary building materials on the islands.
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Reeds and dry grass are the two primary building materials on the islands.
The people who've fled on to the islands in Lake Upemba survive almost entirely from fishing.
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The people who've fled on to the islands in Lake Upemba survive almost entirely from fishing.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.