Once Congolese refugees in CAR, now they shelter former hosts fleeing CAR

News Stories, 10 September 2013

© UNHCR/B.Sokol
Valentin (right in yellow shirt), a 45-year-old Congolese father of eight, has been a refugee three times. He found shelter in Central African Republic. Today, it's his turn to host refugees. Valentin is seen here with his old friend and former host, Amodola, now a refugee from CAR.

BATANGA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, September 10 (UNHCR) With conflict now appearing on the opposite side of the Oubangui River separating the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic, former refugees here and their ex-hosts have been forced to reverse roles.

"Our Congo is also a country that has many problems," Valentin, a 45-year-old father of eight, said outside his house in Batanga village in northern DRC's Equateur province. He was a refugee in the Central African Republic (CAR) in the 1990s, again from 2001 to 2004 during a new round of civil war, and from 2009 to 2011 during inter-ethnic clashes over fishponds.

Today, it's his turn to host refugees. Some 40,000 CAR residents have fled to the DRC since late March, when the rebel Seleka movement captured Bangui and ousted the Central African Republic government. Two refugee families of 12 people have found shelter in Valentin's small house beside the Oubangui; 22 people now sleep under his roof.

"We have also been forced [in the past] to flee and, on the other side of the river, we have been welcomed. We are obliged to do the same. Everything I do is what they have done for us too," Valentin said. In 2009, he stayed with families in Zinga on the opposite side of the river for weeks before he was transferred to a refugee camp.

"When I heard that these two families were living in Batanga transit centre, I ran to look for them and took them to my house," Valentin said. "They are the same families who hosted me on the other side [of the river]. We know each other well. They were welcoming when I was with them. When they arrived here, I felt obliged to do the same."

Most of the local population of Batanga were refugees in CAR in 2009 and are now hosting refugees from there. "Their kindness comes from the fact that the Congolese themselves have been welcomed by the Central African population and were allowed to cultivate their land [in 2009]. The population from here could not do otherwise," said Mokatu Sabale, head of Batanga village. He is hosting three families of 15 women and children.

Many of the refugees living with host families in Batanga are awaiting transfer to Boyabo refugee camp since they do not feel safe with Seleka rebels visible on the other side of the Oubangui River.

"I saw dead people, I saw people wounded, I saw all of that and I was scared," said Amodola Kelela, a 42-year-old father of five who is hosted by Valentin. "The war is terrible. I fled with three of my kids and walked two hours from Mbongo to Zinga. I carried much luggage. I suffered a lot."

UNHCR is continuing to extend Boyabo refugee camp to be able to transfer more refugees; some 2,710 refugees are currently in the camp and more than 2,500 more are awaiting transfer there. In addition, more refugees are still crossing the Oubangui River to the DRC.

UNHCR and its partners are also building four refugee camps in DRC's Equateur and Oriental provinces to provide protection and assistance to the refugees and ease the burden on the local population.

Idopolai Tema, a 34-year-old father of five who was a refugee in CAR, is among those hosting refugees who had once helped him. Since May, he has sheltered five families of 21 people in his small house.

"My wife and my kids are sleeping in one room, my wife and myself on the bed and my kids on sleeping mats on the floor. The refugees are sleeping in the second room and the living room," he said. "When they crossed we could not leave them to suffer, as we have a house here," Tema added. "We are all brothers, we are all humans."

By Céline Schmitt in Batanga, Democratic Republic of the Congo

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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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