UNHCR shelter programme in South Kivu needs fresh funding

News Stories, 18 March 2009

© UNHCR/F.Fontanini
New brick houses dot Sebele village, where Amina lives.

BARAKA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, March 18 (UNHCR) Pressure to provide new housing in South Kivu is mounting as more and more people return to the relatively peaceful and stable province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). But the ability of agency's such as UNHCR to keep pace with demand will depend on the continuing generosity of donors.

"The absence of adequate housing is one of the biggest challenges refugees face upon their return to South Kivu. After years of absence, most find their homes destroyed and have nowhere to stay," Sebastien Apatita, head of the UN refugee agency's office in Baraka, explained during a recent visit.

Most of the refugees returning to South Kivu come from camps across Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania. Last year, the agency funded the construction of some 500 shelters in the province's Uvira and Fizi districts to accommodate some 2,500 of the more than 14,500 returnees it helped back home, mostly via this lakeside port.

Over the next two years, with thousands more refugees expected back, UNHCR hopes to provide the resources to build 1,500 more houses in Uvira and Fizi for the most vulnerable families. But this ambitious target will depend on receiving sufficient funding during a time of economic recession.

"It's a very critical situation," said UNHCR Regional Representative Mohamed Boukry. "Unless we receive contributions, we will have no choice but to reduce this important assistance to thousands of Congolese refugees coming back home from Tanzania," he added.

UNHCR does not construct the new brick houses and shelters in South Kivu, but provides the materials and tools. This includes corrugated iron sheets for roofing, pre-made doors and windows, nails, axes, hammers and the like. The families then build their own houses.

Those who might find it difficult or impossible to build their own homes, including single women, the elderly and the ill, get help from the community. Amina,* a single mother of four, did not know what to make of the shelter kit she received from UNHCR after being ferried across the lake to Baraka.

"I did not how to use it, but then thanks to help of my brothers and sisters we succeed in building a house," she proudly told visitors in the village of Sebele, located a few kilometres from Baraka. UNHCR and its partners follow up to make sure that the shelter kits have been used properly.

"It is a miracle to come home with almost nothing and almost immediately to have a house after spending more than 10 years in a tent in a refugee camp," Amina enthused.

The beneficiaries of the programme are identified by members of the community with advice from UNHCR and the government's National Commission for Refugees.

Years of devastating civil war in the DRC formally ended in 2003, with a peace treaty. While human rights abuses continue to be recorded in South Kivu, the province has largely remained peaceful in recent years, unlike neighbouring North Kivu province, where conflict continues to displace people.

The relative improvements in security in South Kivu, Equateur and Katanga provinces has led to the return of more than 180,000 Congolese refugees, mainly from Tanzania, the Republic of Congo and Zambia, since UNHCR repatriation operations started in 2005. This year, UNHCR plans to help home about 35,000 Congolese from Tanzania and Zambia.

* Name changed for protection reasons

By Francesca Fontanini in Baraka, Democratic Republic of the Congo





One of the first things that people need after being forced to flee their homes, whether they be refugees or internally displaced, is some kind of a roof over their head.

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The port city of Aden in southern Yemen has long been a destination for refugees, asylum-seekers and economic migrants after making the dangerous sea crossing from the Horn of Africa. Since May 2011, Aden also has been providing shelter to tens of thousands of Yemenis fleeing fighting between government forces and armed groups in neighbouring Abyan governorate.

Most of the 157,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from Abyan have found shelter with friends and relatives, but some 20,000 have been staying in dozens of public schools and eight vacant public buildings. Conditions are crowded with several families living together in a single classroom.

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UNHCR has provided emergency assistance, including blankets, plastic sheeting and wood stoves, to almost 70,000 IDPs from Abyan. Earlier this year, UNHCR rehabilitated two buildings, providing shelter for 2,000 people and allowing 3,000 children, IDPs and locals, to resume schooling in proper classrooms. UNHCR is advocating with the authorities for the conversion of additional public buildings into transitional shelters for the thousands of IDPs still living in schools.

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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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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.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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