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Inter-agency mission assesses return conditions in North Kivu region

News Stories, 1 December 2012

© UNHCR/G.Ramazani
The inter-agency team meet returnees during the assessment evaluation mission to Rutshuru.

GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, November 30 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has led a joint mission to assess security conditions in an area of eastern Congo that thousands of recently displaced people have started returning to and found the situation generally "calm."

UNHCR and its humanitarian partners would like to provide transport and assistance for the most vulnerable among those who want to return to their homes in North Kivu province's Rutshuru territory. But the refugee agency insists that returns must be voluntary and that it should be safe in return areas before people are taken back.

UNHCR's Kouassi Lazare Etien said the mission travelled Thursday from Goma, capital of North Kivu province, to Kiwanja and Rutshuru some 75 kilometres to the north. They also visited Rugari, Biruma and Kibumba districts. Others taking part included the World Food Programme, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs as well as non-governmental aid organizations and the Civil Affairs Section of the UN peace-keeping mission.

Etien, head of UNHCR's office in Goma, said the participants were analyzing and discussing their impressions on the situation in Rutshuru, from which tens of thousands of people fled this month after the rebel M23 movement fought with government troops and captured the provincial capital on November 20.

More than 6,100 families, or almost 20,000 people, have returned this week to Rutshuru from camps or spontaneous settlements for internally displaced people in and around Goma, according to UNHCR partner FEMISA.

"We met many IDPs along the road who had returned home," said Etien, adding that some complained that their homes had been broken into and possessions or crops stolen while they were away.

But he said generally, the situation appeared to be calm and there were no roadblocks on the road. But some people complained of banditry, mainly at night. In Biruma for example, most of the inhabitants said they spend the night in the bush for security reasons.

"We saw from the road normal business . . . There is a steady return to normal life," he noted, while however noting: "There is still room for improvement."

The assessment mission was aimed at helping UNHCR and its key partners determine if it was safe to return and of they could help the vulnerable go back. Etien said they would release their mission report once it had been completed and agreed on by all parties.

Meanwhile, the situation in Goma also remains relatively stable. The electricity is back but UNHCR has received reports of looting and carjacking. Etien also said there was some uncertainty about when the M23 would withdraw and how far. "Yesterday, we saw some of them withdraw in pick-up trucks," he said, while adding: "They are still around."

The UNHCR official said there was concern about what would happen during a handover of power in Goma. He confirmed that the airport at Goma was still closed.

He said UNHCR and its partners were discussing further aid distributions. Tens of thousands of people have received food and non-food aid since last weekend. There is a need for family shelters, blankets, kitchen sets, tarpaulins, plastic rolls, mosquito nets, mats, jerrycans, bars of soap and sanitary towels.

Some IDP sites are being supplied with water brought in by truck, but to keep IDPs from taking untreated water from the lake. In Bulengo camp, people have been taking water from Lake Kivu. British aid agency Merlin has set up water treatment equipment in the site.

The fighting that erupted on November 15 forced 130,000 people to flee their homes and seeks shelter in and around Goma. A further 18,500 fled to South Kivu from North Kivu since early November. There are more than 1 million IDPs in the two provinces.

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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.

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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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