Tension mounts in two Congolese camps after woman shot dead

News Stories, 21 November 2008

© UNHCR/P.Taggart
An anxious-looking family shelter in their tent in Kibati.

GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, November 21 (UNHCR) Fears mounted for the safety of tens of thousands of displaced civilians at two camps in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after a young woman was shot dead on Friday morning.

The alarming security incident at the sprawling Kibati I camp in North Kivu province gave added urgency to plans to move up to 30,000 of the 67,000 internally displaced Congolese in Kibati's two camps to a new site, Mugunga III, under construction in a safer area some 15 kilometres away.

A UNHCR spokesman said several homes were also looted after families fled the shooting in Kibati, which is located several kilometres north of the provincial capital, Goma, but only two kilometres from the frontline between government soldiers and rebel troops. "Our team in Kibati is assessing the situation and the needs of the victims," the spokesman said.

The 20-year-old woman was reportedly killed during an abduction attempt by uniformed and armed men. The shooting came amid a relative lull in the fighting, which flared in August and has uprooted some 250,000 people, many of them already internally displaced people (IDPs)

"We are afraid that such incidents may continue to happen because we have armed men going in and out of the camps," said Ibrahima Coly, head of UNHCR's sub-office in Goma.

The UN refugee agency has repeatedly expressed concern about the safety of the IDPs in Kibati, fearing mainly that they could be caught in the crossfire if widescale fighting breaks out again. Work on the 65-hectare Mugunga III began last weekend and the killing in Kibati could add impetus to the work.

UNHCR and partners have cleared the ground and started building accommodation blocks and other infrastructure, including reception facilities, access roads, latrines and a water distribution system. The work is taking time because the site lies on a hardened lava field.

Once the basics are in place, UNHCR will help the provincial authorities move people on a voluntary basis to Mugunga III. Most will make the 15-kilometre journey by foot, but young children, the elderly and the infirm will be transported by truck. UNHCR is building way stations between Kibati and Mugunga where people can rest and receive food and water.

Meanwhile, the pace of voluntary repatriation of Congolese refugees from Zambia has slowed because of the fighting in North Kivu even though few of the refugees come from the province. There are currently some 45,000 Congolese refugees in Zambia, 28,000 of whom live in camps and settlements in the north of the country.

"Just before the fighting erupted in the Kivu region, the number of refugees registering for voluntary repatriation in the Mwange and Kala camps in northern Zambia had shown a significant increase. But now, very few are coming forward to register and even some of those who register are opting out at the last minute," said James Lynch, UNHCR's representative in Zambia.

Most of the refugees in the camps are from the peaceful Katanga province, but many of them listen to shortwave radio to find out about the security situation in North Kivu. They pass on the latest information to other camp residents. UNHCR will continue to inform the refugees about conditions in their homeland so that they can decide on whether or not to return.

Some 9,000 Congolese refugees have returned to DRC from Zambia with UNHCR assistance this year, compared to slightly more than 7,300 in 2007. Most have gone back to Katanga, bordering Zambia, but some refugees now say they fear the fighting could spread throughout eastern and southern DRC.

Fighting in North Kivu intensified at the end of 2006. By January 2008, it had brought the total number of IDPs in the region to more than 800,000. Some 12,000 Congolese have crossed the border into Uganda since August.

By David Nthengwe in Goma, DRC
and Kelvin Shimo in Lusaka, Angola

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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

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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.

When the displacement crisis worsened in North Kivu in 2007, the UN refugee agency sent emergency teams to the area and set up operations in several camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). Assistance efforts have also included registering displaced people and distributing non-food aid. UNHCR carries out protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs in North and South Kivu.

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