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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Human Misery in Katanga Province's Triangle of Death

People in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Katanga province have long referred to the region between the towns of Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto as the "triangle of death." Despite the presence of UN peace-keepers and government military successes in other parts of the country, the situation in the resources-rich Katanga has been getting worse over the past two years. Conflict between a secessionist militia group and the government and between the Luba (Bantu) and Twa (Pygmy) ethnic groups has left thousands dead and forcibly displaced more than 400,000 people since 2012, including over 70,000 in the last three months. UNHCR has expressed its "deep concern" about the "catastrophic" humanitarian situation in northern Katanga. The violence includes widescale looting and burning of entire villages and human rights' violations such as murder, mass rape and other sexual violence, and the forced military recruitment of children.

The limited presence of humanitarian and development organizations is a serious problem, leading to insufficient assistance to displaced people who struggle to have access to basic services. There are 28 sites hosting the displaced in northern Katanga and many more displaced people live in host communities. While UNHCR has built some 1,500 emergency shelters since January, more is needed, including access to health care, potable water, food and education. The following striking photographs by Brian Sokol for UNHCR show some of the despair and suffering.

Human Misery in Katanga Province's Triangle of Death

Statelessness Around the World

At least 10 million people in the world today are stateless. They are told that they don't belong anywhere. They are denied a nationality. And without one, they are denied their basic rights. From the moment they are born they are deprived of not only citizenship but, in many cases, even documentation of their birth. Many struggle throughout their lives with limited or no access to education, health care, employment, freedom of movement or sense of security. Many are unable to marry, while some people choose not to have children just to avoid passing on the stigma of statelessness. Even at the end of their lives, many stateless people are denied the dignity of a death certificate and proper burial.

The human impact of statelessness is tremendous. Generations and entire communities can be affected. But, with political will, statelessness is relatively easy to resolve. Thanks to government action, more than 4 million stateless people acquired a nationality between 2003 and 2013 or had their nationality confirmed. Between 2004 and 2014, twelve countries took steps to remove gender discrimination from their nationality laws - action that is vital to ensuring children are not left stateless if their fathers are stateless or unable to confer their nationality. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 42 accessions to the two statelessness conventions - indication of a growing consensus on the need to tackle statelessness. UNHCR's 10-year Campaign to End Statelessness seeks to give impetus to this. The campaign calls on states to take 10 actions that would bring a definitive end to this problem and the suffering it causes.

These images are available for use only to illustrate articles related to UNHCR statelessness campaign. They are not available for archiving, resale, redistribution, syndication or third party licensing, but only for one-time print/online usage. All images must be properly credited UNHCR/photographer's name

Statelessness Around the World

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

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