UNHCR concerned about continued instability in eastern DRC

Briefing Notes, 23 July 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 23 July 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

After nearly two weeks of fighting in the North Kivu province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), we remain concerned about the situation of civilians in the area of conflict. On Sunday evening, July 21, bomb explosions and gunfire on the DRC side could be heard from border points in western Uganda's Bundibugyo district. Relatively few refugees have crossed over.

Access to the area is not possible for humanitarian agencies, and conditions of those who do not make it across to Uganda are unclear. It takes refugees from the Kamango area around 12 hours to walk to the Ugandan border.

By Monday evening, after two or three days of skirmishes, there was a momentary calm, as all forces seemed to be regrouping.

Tens of thousands of refugees first began pouring into western Uganda after fighting erupted between Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group, and the DRC army in Kamango on July 11.

The Bubukwanga transit centre, some 25 kilometres inland from the border, is now home to 15,714 refugees, 60 per cent of whom are under the age of 18. Our site planner has now assessed that this is its maximum capacity, even though the previous estimates had indicated that it could house 25,000.

The Ugandan Office of the Prime Minister has pledged to begin electronic registration using biometrics by the end of this week so they can quickly begin moving refugees if they wish to the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement for longer term protection and assistance. There they will be given plots of land to farm, as well as basic household items.

Many refugees brought their animals with them from DRC and are sleeping in their tents with their ducks and goats, increasing the risk of disease in the transit centre. The emergency response will be shifting its focus on decongesting the transit centre as of this week.

Our UNHCR staff at Bubukwanga have been checking for cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) among vulnerable people arriving in the camp. So far, they have found nothing but UNHCR and its partners are considering sending experts on SGBV and child protection to the camp. As of Monday evening, there were 93 unaccompanied children at the transit centre and another 25 have been reunified with family. This brings the cumulative total to 118 unaccompanied children assisted – 89 boys and 29 girls. Another 33 separated children were registered, while a total of 41 children had been reunited with their parents since the operation started in the transit centre.

Meanwhile, our staff in the North Kivu capital, Goma, say fighting between the DRC government forces and the M23 rebel group is continuing. There were clashes on Monday, but the situation was calm on Tuesday morning. A UNHCR staff member, however, said there was no sign that the fighting some 10 kilometres north of Goma, had ended.

When the fighting started last week, some 660 civilians fled to neighbouring Rwanda and about 4,200 people sought shelter at schools and churches in Goma. There has been no sign of further mass displacement.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Uganda on mission, Kitty McKinsey (Regional) on mobile +254 735 337 608
  • In Mbarara, Lucy Beck on mobile +256 77 271 013
  • In Kampala: Karen Ringuette on mobile +256 772 701115
  • In Geneva: Leo Dobbs on mobile: +41 79 883 6347
  • Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
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Edwige Deals With Loss by Keeping Busy and Aiding Others in Mole Camp

Edwige Kpomako is a woman in a hurry; but her energy also helps the refugee from Central African Republic (CAR) to cope with the tragedy that forced her to flee to northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last year. Before violence returned to her country in 2012, the 25-year-old was studying for a Masters in American literature in Bangui, and looking forward to the future. "I started my thesis on the works of Arthur Miller, but because of the situation in CAR . . . ," she said, her voice trailing off. Instead, she had to rush to the DRC with a younger brother, but her fiancée and 10-year old son were killed in the inter-communal violence in CAR.

After crossing the Oubangui River to the DRC, Edwige was transferred to Mole, a camp housing more than 13,000 refugees. In a bid to move on with her life and keep busy, she started to help others, assume a leadership role and take part in communal activities, including the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. She heads the women's committee, is engaged in efforts to combat sexual violence, and acts as a liaison officer at the health centre. She also teaches and runs a small business selling face creams. "I discovered that I'm not weak," said Edwige, who remains optimistic. She is sure that her country will come out of its nightmare and rebuild, and that she will one day become a human rights lawyer helping refugees.

American photojournalist Brian Sokol took these photos.

Edwige Deals With Loss by Keeping Busy and Aiding Others in Mole Camp

Batalimo to Batanga and Beyond: Congolese Return Home from CAR

Over the past month, almost 6,300 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have left the Batalimo camp in the troubled Central African Republic and returned voluntarily to their homes in Equateur province. Their decision to go back is a further sign of the gravity of the situation in Central African Republic, where escalated violence since December has left hundreds of thousands internally displaced and forced almost 350,000 to flee to neighbouring countries. The refugees at Batalimo were among some 20,000 Congolese who had fled to the Central African Republic to escape inter-ethnic conflict back home. The return operation from Batalimo had been postponed several times for security and logistical reasons, but on April 10 the first convoy headed across the Oubangui River. The last arrived in the DRC on May 10. The UN refugee agency organized transportation of the refugees from Batalimo to the Central African Republic riverside town of Zinga, where they boarded boats for the crossing to Batanga or Libenge in Equateur province. In Batanga, the returnees were registered, provided with documentation and given a cash grant to help them reintegrate. They were then transported to their villages, where they will be monitored. Photographer Leonora Baumann followed one group back to the DRC.

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2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented Sister Angélique Namaika of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award at a gala ceremony in Geneva on Monday night.

Sister Angélique, through her Centre for Reintegration and Development, has helped transform the lives of more than 2,000 women and girls who had been forced from their homes and abused by fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) or other armed groups. Many of those she helps suffered abduction, forced labour, beatings, murder, rape or other human rights abuses.

The Roman Catholic nun helps survivors to heal by offering them the chance to learn a trade, start a small business or go to school. Testimonies from these women show the remarkable effect she has had on helping turn around their lives, with many affectionately calling her "mother."

The Award ceremony featured a keynote speech from best-selling author Paulo Coelho and musical performances by singer-songwriter Dido, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna and Grammy-nominated Malian musicians, Amadou and Mariam.

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

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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.
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