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London photo exhibitions to highlight refugee issues in Democratic Republic of the Congo

News Stories, 11 April 2007

The UN refugee agency and the World Food Programme will later this month open an exhibition in London of powerful images of displaced people and returnees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

LONDON, United Kingdom, April 11 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency and the World Food Programme will later this month open an exhibition in London of powerful images of displaced people and returnees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The exhibition, "Exposed and Hungry: Life in eastern Congo," will feature pictures by American freelance photographer Susan Schulman focusing on the issues of bringing shelter, protection and food to people in the volatile eastern regions of the DRC.

Funded by the UK Department for International Development, it will open on April 25 at the Oxo Tower Wharf in London's South Bank area. The exhibition will continue until May 13 and then move across the River Thames to the city's famous Royal Albert Hall from May 15-June 9.

The London-based Schulman took the photographs while on recent assignment for UNHCR and the World Food Programme and the two UN agencies hope the shows will raise awareness amongst Londoners and visitors to the UK capital of the plight of the displaced in the DRC, whose lives rarely feature in Britain's main media outlets.

The exhibition will recount some of the experiences of the displaced Congolese while in camps and in flight, and depict the emotions they feel when returning home and starting life anew. Schulman's work has featured in a wide range of international publications. Specialising in editorial and documentary work, she has worked with a number of humanitarian agencies.

An estimated 1.1 million Congolese are internally displaced in the DRC after fleeing their homes due to force or fear of force. They benefit from food and shelter through the operational partnership between the UNHCR and sister agencies like WFP. UNHCR and WFP also support the more than 400,000 Congolese refugees who still live in exile, mainly in neighbouring countries.

UNHCR is seeking US$47 million to support the return and reintegration this year of some 98,500 Congolese refugees and a further US$15 million to provide protection and assistance for an estimated 1.1 million internally displaced people.

Hilary Benn, the UK secretary of state for international development, during a visit to Kinshasa last September highlighted Britain's continued support for the DRC's fight against poverty and called for other international donors to increase humanitarian support.

"Misery and deprivation remain a fact of life for too many Congolese. The UK has increased its contribution to the UN's Action Plan designed to tackle these problems, and I would like to take this opportunity to encourage other donors to do everything they can to meet the humanitarian challenges," he said at the time.

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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

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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.

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