Violent clashes bring new misery to Congolese civilians

Published on 24 April 2007

Thousands of civilians have fled renewed fighting in the north eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo where WFP and UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), are working together to alleviate suffering among the local population.

Thousands of civilians have fled renewed fighting in the north eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo where WFP and UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), are working together to alleviate suffering among the local population.

Despite all the country's troubles, the DRC is at the heart of solutions for long-standing refugee problems throughout Africa's Great Lakes region

Eusebe Hounsokou, Representative for UNHCR in Kinshasa

Violent clashes between various militias and government troops over recent weeks have forced more than 64,000 people to flee their homes in North Kivu province alone.

Some victims of the fighting have gathered in makeshift camps 100 km from Goma in the north east, while thousands of others are still living in the bush, hiding during the day and going to their fields at night.

Hotspots

In response, WFP has distributed more than 1,000 metric tons of food to 68,000 displaced people in North Kivu. UNHCR rapid monitoring teams have so far conducted 25 rapid assessments at hotspots in the crisis areas to identify human rights concerns and the needs of the displaced villagers.

Reports by victims that armed groups committed serious human rights abuses are being raised by the UN Refugee Agency with the Congolese military and local authorities.

"The latest fighting underlines the need for a strong humanitarian presence in eastern Congo," said Charles Vincent, WFP Country Director in DRC.

"Agencies like WFP and UNHCR have a vital role to play, assisting those caught up in the fighting as well as providing for others who are able to settle down when peace prevails."

Returnees

Although violence continues in one part of eastern Congo, stability elsewhere has allowed over 96,000 refugees to return home, some of whom have been away for eight years.

UNHCR is currently facilitating the voluntary return of Congolese refugees from five neighbouring countries including Tanzania and Burundi.

So far this year, returns stand at 8,000 – lower than expected – as refugees are worried about difficult living conditions back home.

More than 1.1 million Congolese are displaced within their own country by conflict and persecution, reliant upon the UN and partner agencies for assistance and protection.

Heart of the solution

"Despite all the country's troubles, the DRC is at the heart of solutions for long-standing refugee problems throughout Africa's Great Lakes region," said Eusebe Hounsokou, Representative for UNHCR in Kinshasa.

"Congolese repatriate from five neighbouring countries, while Sudanese, Angolan and Burundian refugees return home from the DRC."

UNHCR helps returnees build basic mud-brick houses and provides support to rehabilitate health centres, while WFP provides a three month ration of food aid.

Communities where security is restored need more assistance in rebuilding basic public services such as primary healthcare and education.

UNHCR and WFP are hosting a joint exhibition of photos from eastern Congo, which opens on April 25 in London. "Exposed and Hungry: Life in eastern Congo" is a collection of images portraying civilians caught up in the fighting and families returning home after many years living in exile.

Taken by freelance photographer, Susan Schulman, the photos will be on display at the Oxo Gallery until May 15 before being moved to the Royal Albert Hall until June 9. After London, the exhibition will go to the UN humanitarian headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.