UNHCR chief urges the world not to forget the displaced in eastern Congo

News Stories, 16 October 2009

© UNHCR/D.Nthengwe
High Commissioner Guterres greets elders before engaging in a long discussion about their situation at Shasha camp.

GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, October 16 (UNHCR) Comparing the hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Friday urged the international community not to forget the Congolese in their hour of need.

Speaking in the eastern DRC city of Goma, epicentre of one of the world's biggest displacement crises, Guterres noted that some 2 million people were displaced in the vast country and decried the enormity of the challenges facing the humanitarian and international community in meeting the needs of these civilians.

"If you look at the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, all the victims victims of conflict, victims of illness, health problems, of extreme poverty the number of people that die, mostly needlessly, every six months is equivalent to the [number of] victims of the Asian tsunami," he said.

"Now if you compare the massive support of the international community to the tsunami victims with the support that is given to the DRC every six months, it's a stark difference," the High Commissioner added. The 2004 tsunami killed more than 200,000 people in countries around the Indian Ocean.

Guterres, who arrived Thursday in Goma, capital of North Kivu province, has long tried to keep a spotlight on the continuing displacement crisis and violence in eastern Congo, despite the signing of a national peace accord in 2003. He last visited North Kivu in December 2007. But sporadic outbursts of violence continue to force people to flee their homes or camps.

Yesterday, the High Commissioner visited several camps for internally displaced people (IDP) in North Kivu as well as neighbouring South Kivu. He toured Shasha and Mubimbi I camp, which host victims of the multiple conflicts that have ravaged the troubled Kivus in the last three years.

In Shasha, North Kivu, Guterres met members of the Bambuti, indigenous forest hunter-gatherers also known as Pygmies who have suffered particularly badly over the years. They told him that even if peace and stability return to the region, they have nowhere to live. They appealed to the authorities for help in getting land.

In Mubimbi I, which is situated in South Kivu, Guterres meet a mixed group of IDPs some displaced in previous conflicts and others freshly driven out of their homes in a drive by the Congolese armed forces to disarm the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The High Commissioner also visited Rutoboko in North Kivu's Masisi district, which was devastated during clashes between the Congolese armed forces and the rebel National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) in 2008, causing thousands of civilians to flee.

Now many of them are returning to their villages and rebuilding their lives. All along the road there were signs of new life and hope. It is the rainy season and the returnees were busy reconstructing their homes and planting crops such as beans, bananas and cassava. The schools have reopened.

The IDPs began returning home in March 2009, when the Congolese government and the rebels signed a peace truce. But the pace quickened last month, when some 66,000 people sheltering in six UNHCR-assisted camps in and around Goma returned to their areas of origins.

Guterres assured both the IDPs and the returnees of the UN refugee agency's continued support. He said those unable to return because of the conflict in their home areas would be assisted in UNHCR-run camps, while those returning home would be provided with the support they needed to get back on their feet.

In Rutoboko, the High Commissioner met 70-year-old Muhanuka Kahunde, who returned home in September after spending nearly two years in the Buhima IDP camp on the outskirt of Goma. "I returned because there is peace and no trouble here. It is quite peaceful, we have started rebuilding our homes and clearing the land for planting," he said.

But there are others, like 42-year-old Charlin Amunazi, who are unlikely to return home soon. She fled when her village in Masisi district was overrun by armed men and now lives in the Mugunga III camp near Goma. "I fled when the fighting intensified and my husband was killed," she recalled. "Everybody fled and then the raping started, so we ran too."

Before flying to Goma, Guterres held wide-ranging talks in Kinshasa with President Joseph Kabila Kabalange, Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito, Interior Minister Celestine Mbuyu and International Cooperation Minister Raymond Shibanda as well as General Babacar Gaye, head of UN forces in the DRC.

Guterres will pay a visit to Rwanda before attending a special summit of the African Union on forcibly displaced people. The historic meeting will take place in the Ugandan capital of Kampala from Monday through Friday.

By Yusuf Hassan in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Intense fighting has forced more than 64,000 Congolese to flee the country in recent months.

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The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Internally Displaced People

The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Since 2006, renewed conflict and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes – the country's worst displacement crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are now some 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

Hope for the future was raised in January 2008 when the DRC government and rival armed factions signed a peace accord. But the situation remains tense in North Kivu and tens of thousands of people still need help. UNHCR has opened sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) and distributed assistance such as blankets, plastic sheets, soap, jerry cans, firewood and other items to the four camps in the region. Relief items have also been delivered to some of the makeshift sites that have sprung up.

UNHCR staff have been engaged in protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs and other populations at risk across North Kivu.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Posted on 28 May 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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Fighting rages on in various parts of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with seemingly no end in sight for hundreds of thousands of Congolese forced to flee violence and instability over the past two years. The ebb and flow of conflict has left many people constantly on the move, while many families have been separated. At least 1 million people are displaced in North Kivu, the hardest hit province. After years of conflict, more than 1,000 people still die every day - mostly of hunger and treatable diseases. In some areas, two out of three women have been raped. Abductions persist and children are forcefully recruited to fight. Outbreaks of cholera and other diseases have increased as the situation deteriorates and humanitarian agencies struggle to respond to the needs of the displaced.

When the displacement crisis worsened in North Kivu in 2007, the UN refugee agency sent emergency teams to the area and set up operations in several camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). Assistance efforts have also included registering displaced people and distributing non-food aid. UNHCR carries out protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs in North and South Kivu.

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