Refugee returnees in eastern Congo get title deeds for first time

Making a Difference, 14 September 2011

© UNHCR/S.Kpandji
Salumu receives the title deed to his land during the ceremony in South Kivu's transit camp.

UVIRA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, September 14 (UNHCR) Fifteen years after losing everything he owned and fleeing overseas, a joyous Salumu clutches a document that he believes holds the key to a new, better life.

It's a title deed, providing legal proof that the father of seven is the owner of the plot of land where he and his family have lived in Democratic Republic of the Congo's South Kivu province since returning home from exile in Tanzania in 2008.

"I can't believe it," Salumu said, his voice breaking with emotion. "Nobody can argue with me now about my land. I've become the owner," added the patriarch, who is in his 60s. His joy has been made possible by a shelter programme launched by UNHCR, in cooperation with the government, to avoid land and property disputes.

The former refugee was among a first group of 68 returnees given title deeds for land in South Kivu's Uvira and Fizi districts at a government ceremony last month in the province's Kavimvira transit camp. More are expected to have their land ownership claims recognized in the coming weeks.

Uvira and Fizi are the main areas of return in eastern Congo for refugees in neighbouring Tanzania and Burundi. Since the start of a UNHCR-run voluntary repatriation programme in 2005, more than 64,000 Congolese have come back home from the two countries with the agency's help.

Salumu lost everything when he crossed into Tanzania in 1996 to escape the civil war that was ravaging in South Kivu and other parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"My cows, my fields and my land, all were plundered. I had to flee with my family," he said. "Even when I returned, people still took possessions, but that's all behind me now," he said, brandishing his title deed and thanking UNHCR for helping him find a livelihood and build his brick home.

The absence of adequate housing and land has been one of the biggest challenges refugees face upon their return to South Kivu. After years of absence, many find their homes destroyed and have nowhere to stay. Others find their former land is occupied.

In the past three years, UNHCR has funded the construction of some 1,650 brick homes and distributed 2,655 shelter kits to returnees in Uvira and Fizi districts, or enough for 21,000 people.

But arguments over land ownership have persisted and boiled over into violence on a few occasions between refugee returnees and those who remained in Uvira or Fizi throughout the war, which formally ended with a fragile peace accord in 2003.

In a bid to avert such disputes and to protect returnees living in the new shelters, UNHCR, working through the National Commission for Refugees, has over the past two year held talks with the local and provincial authorities aimed at putting in place a system charged with issuing legally binding ownership documents.

"These steps led earlier this year to the establishment of a project aimed at granting title deeds to the residents of 675 of these shelters," explained Aminata Bamba, head of the UNHCR sub-office in Uvira. "This happy outcome will encourage other refugees living in the region to return home."

Célestine, a 55-year-old widow who was also given a title deed by the governor of South Kivu at the Kavimvira ceremony, said some Congolese exiles refuse to return because they remain concerned about the situation.

"Some refugees in Tanzania are not coming back because they don't believe they will get access to their land and belongings and this is an essential condition for them to return," she said, while adding that she was happy she had come back and acquired ownership of her land. "I am happy because my children will benefit from this land, even when I am no longer on this earth."

More than 60,000 Congolese refugees still live in Tanzania and 29,000 in Burundi. UNHCR and the DRC authorities are working with the governments of the two host countries to find durable solutions for these people.

By Simplice Kpandji in Uvira, Democratic Republic of the Congo

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

Repatriation

UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

DR Congo Crisis: Urgent Appeal

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

Donate to this crisis

Finding a Home on Ancestral Land

Somali Bantu refugees gaining citizenship in Tanzania

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

Returnees in Myanmar

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

UNHCR started distributing emergency relief aid in devastated southern Lebanese villages in the second half of August. Items such as tents, plastic sheeting and blankets are being distributed to the most vulnerable. UNHCR supplies are being taken from stockpiles in Beirut, Sidon and Tyre and continue to arrive in Lebanon by air, sea and road.

Although 90 percent of the displaced returned within days of the August 14 ceasefire, many Lebanese have been unable to move back into their homes and have been staying with family or in shelters, while a few thousand have remained in Syria.

Since the crisis began in mid-July, UNHCR has moved 1,553 tons of supplies into Syria and Lebanon for the victims of the fighting. That has included nearly 15,000 tents, 154,510 blankets, 53,633 mattresses and 13,474 kitchen sets. The refugee agency has imported five trucks and 15 more are en route.

Posted on 29 August 2006

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

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.

Posted on 6 November 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate
Play video

Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate

The 2013 winner of UNHCR`s Nansen Refugee Award is Sister Angelique Namaika, who works in the remote north east region of Democratic Republic of the Congo with survivors of displacement and abuse by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). She has helped over 2000 displaced women and girls who have suffered the most awful kidnapping and abuse, to pick up the pieces of their lives and become re-accepted by their communities.
Uganda: New Camp, New ArrivalsPlay video

Uganda: New Camp, New Arrivals

Recent fighting in eastern Congo has seen thousands of civilians flee to a new camp, Bubukwanga, in neighboring Uganda.
DR Congo: Tears of RapePlay video

DR Congo: Tears of Rape

Eastern DRC remains one of the most dangerous places in Africa, particularly for women.