60,000 Congolese in North Kivu spontaneous IDP site wait for better tomorrows

Telling the Human Story, 8 October 2012

© UNHCR/G.Ramazani
Josephine's concerns are etched in her face at the Kanyaruchinya spontaneous settlement. She thanks god that she and her seven children survived the recent fighting in eastern Congo.

KANYARUCHINYA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, October 8 (UNHCR) Congolese widow Josephine still finds it difficult to believe that she and her seven children managed to survive fighting in North Kivu province that has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes since April.

But, while thanking God for sparing them, she feels as though she is now living in a kind of purgatory in the wretched, sprawling site for internally displaced people (IDP) that has sprouted up spontaneously since July in and around the village of Kanyaruchinya, located about 10 kilometres north of Goma, the provincial capital.

"We are no longer living, we are simply trying to survive while waiting better tomorrows," she told UNHCR in Kanyaruchinya, which now has a population of around 60,000 people, who lack sufficient shelter, food, water and other basic aid, but are reluctant to move to established IDP sites. Most of the IDPs live in makeshift shelters on each side of the street that runs through the village while some sleep at night in the village school.

It is the largest of many spontaneous settlements that have been set up by civilians fleeing the running battles since April between government troops and the M23 group of mutineers as well as generalized violence and human rights abuses that have left 390,000 people internally displaced in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, including 220,000 in North Kivu. Some 60,000 people have fled to Rwanda and Uganda.

UNHCR, the local authorities and others have encouraged the new residents of Kanyaruchinya to move to IDP camps in relatively safer areas, such as Mugunga III some 20 kms to the west, where families are regularly fed and assisted and have access to basic services while waiting to return home.

"We worry about the viability because of its proximity to the fighting and, among other reasons, due to the difficulty in providing enough potable water," said Etien Lazare, head of UNHCR's Goma office. But despite the concerns, UNHCR and its partners are looking at ways to support the IDPs at Kanyaruchinya and recently organized a mission to assess the needs there.

Most of the IDPs at Kanyaruchinya are reluctant to move because they say it is closer to their homes. Many have been displaced multiple times and it has almost become a way of life; they are just waiting to return, preferably from somewhere close.

Josephine and her family, for example, come from the town of Kibumba, 30 kms north of Goma in Rutshuru territory, where a lot of the clashes have taken place since April and where it remains difficult for UNHCR staff to reach IDP sites. But she longs to return, harking back to a happier life in her own humble home despite the trauma of flight.

In July, M23 fighters pushed government troops back across Rutshuru and advanced towards Goma, capturing Kibumba along the way, before later withdrawing. "We fled to save our lives," Josephine said. "There was fighting everywhere and we were all scattered," she added, shaking her head.

But although Josephine and her children are now relatively safe, they are desperately in need of assistance. That's why, to meet anticipated needs until the end of the year, UNHCR last month launched an appeal for an extra US$7.4 million for its emergency operations to help 400,000 IDPs in the east.

"It's been a month-and-a-half since we arrived in Kanyaruchinya and we are suffering. We lack enough water and we are hungry," Josephine said. She showed UNHCR the shelter which she and her children live in, a cramped dwelling made of wood and plastic sheeting. "We all sleep together [in two square metres of space]. It gets very cold at night but we have no choice but to sleep on the floor it's very difficult," Josephine said, her voice breaking.

UNHCR's funding appeal includes emergency shelter for 40,000 households in North Kivu and Orientale Province to the north as well as basic domestic items for 15,000 households.

At the start of the year, Josephine was happy and felt she had plenty. "At home, we grew vegetables, beans, potatoes and sweet potatoes and we ate when we felt hungry. But here, we eat only these [high energy] biscuits [distributed by the World Food Programme] and we are crammed into this small space," she complained.

But instead of hanging around and hoping for aid to arrive, the resourceful widow and mother is trying to do something to feed her family. "We have to survive somehow," she said, while revealing: "I do domestic work for some of the locals and collect firewood to sell."

Viviane, aged 56, also fled to Kanyaruchinya from her home near Kibumba, and refuses to move to Mugunga, because, as she explains, "here I am not so far from my home." She and her three children have been sleeping in Kanyaruchinya's primary school, vacating the classrooms during the day so that the local children can attend lessons. It's not an ideal arrangement.

Josephine shares Viviane's dream of returning home, but so long as the insecurity and violence remain, they will continue to need help. International support thus remains crucial while a political solution is sought.

By Simplice Kpandji in Kanyaruchinya, Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

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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Waves of fighting in eastern Democratic of the Republic since late April have displaced tens of thousands of people. Many have become internally displaced within the province, while others have fled to south-west Uganda's Kisoro district or to Rwanda via the Goma-Gisenyi crossing.

The stop-start clashes between government forces and renegade soldiers loyal to former rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda began in the province's Masisi and Walikale territories, but subsequently shifted to Rutshuru territory, which borders Uganda.

Between May 10-20, one of UNHCR's local NGO partners registered more than 40,000 internally displaced people (IDP) in Jomba and Bwesa sectors.

The IDPs are living in difficult conditions, staying in school buildings and churches or with host families. They lack food and shelter and have limited access to health facilities. Some of the displaced have reported cases of extortion, forced labour, beatings and recruitment of minors to fight.

UNHCR and other major aid organizations plan to distribute food, medicine and other aid. More than 300,000 people have been forcibly displaced in North and South Kivu since the start of the year, according to UN figures.

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The deteriorating security situation in the region and the effect it might have on UNHCR's operation to help the refugees and displaced people, is of extreme concern. There are 90,000 displaced people in Chad, as well as 218,000 refugees from Darfur in 12 camps in eastern Chad.

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