UNHCR ends Congolese returns from Zambia, reopens Burundi axis

Briefing Notes, 29 October 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 29 October 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is this week closing the last remaining camps for Congolese refugees in Zambia following the departure on Wednesday of the final repatriation convoy for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The closure of the two camps, Kala and Mwange, is a landmark for us in that it marks the end of our Congolese voluntary repatriation programme from Zambia. Repatriations of Congolese refugees from all other neighbouring countries are continuing

Wednesday's convoy left Kala camp carrying 131 refugees, the last of 47,000 we have helped to return to DRC over the past four years. Most of those on board were headed for Katanga province in southwestern DRC, where UNHCR and its partners implement projects helping reintegration, mainly through skills-training and the provision of micro-credit schemes. The last convoy from Mwange camp left a month ago.

The returnees spent their first day in a reception centre where they received mine awareness training, information about HIV/AIDS and where necessary medical assistance. Before leaving to their villages they are being provided with food, a construction kit for rehabilitation of homes, blankets, soap, kitchen sets and other household items. Later, they will receive seeds and farming tools to support their livelihoods.

Some 2,000 other refugees, who did not want to return, have been transferred to the Meheba settlement in Zambia's northwest. Unlike Kala and Mwange camps, Meheba has a lot more land, allowing refugees to grow crops and become self-reliant. UNHCR will facilitate the repatriation of those who eventually opt to return to the DRC on an individual basis. The 15,000 people presently living at the Meheba settlement come from Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda.

UNHCR will now hand over to the Zambian authorities the facilities at Kala and Mwange the office buildings, staff accommodation, guesthouses, schools, clinics, and water points. These facilities, which are worth some US$ 800,000, will continue to be of service to the Zambian authorities and the local population. Local communities have for some time been able to access social services and health care provided by clinics in the two camps. In addition to setting up water systems in the camps, UNHCR sank boreholes in villages surrounding Mwange and Kala camps to help the local Zambian population.

Civil war in the DRC left more than five million dead and forced millions into displacement between 1998 and 2004. Of those Congolese who became refugees in surrounding countries, tens of thousands found shelter in Zambia. At the height of the crisis in 2004 Zambia hosted some 66,000 Congolese refugees in five camps.

In another country that has hosted Congolese, Burundi, UNHCR yesterday resumed organized repatriations after a more than three-year suspension. The returns were halted in mid-2007 because of fighting in DRC's South Kivu province. Yesterday's convoy carried 173 people from Gasorwe camp in northern Burundi

Upon return they receive three months food rations, blankets, shelter materials, kitchen sets and other household items, mosquito nets, seeds and tools. The operation is closely coordinated with the Congolese government's Programme for Stabilisation and Reconstruction.

We are scheduling weekly repatriation convoys from Burundi to South Kivu, each returning some 200 refugees. Before the end of the year, we hope to facilitate the return of some 2,000 Congolese refugees from Burundi and another 10,000 during 2011. In total there are some 40,000 Congolese refugees and asylum seekers in Burundi, living in three camps and in the capital Bujumbura. Most are from DRC's Uvira, Fizi, Rusizi plain and Mid-Plateux in South Kivu.

Overall, 212,000 Congolese nationals have returned home from surrounding countries since 2004, however some 430,000 remain as refugees, mostly in the Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.




Congolese Medics on Call For Refugees

Jean de Dieu, from the Central African Republic (CAR), was on his way to market in mid-January when he was shot. The 24-year-old shepherd and his family had fled their country two months earlier and sought refuge on an island in the Oubangui River belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Sometimes Jean crossed back to check on his livestock, but last week his luck ran out when he went to take an animal to market. A few hours later, in an improvised operating room in Dula, a Congolese border town on the banks of the Oubangui, medics fight to save his life.

Jean's situation is not unique. Over the past two years, war in the Central African Republic has driven more than 850,000 people from their homes. Many have been attacked as they fled, or killed if they tried to return. In neighbouring DRC, medical resources are being stretched to their limits.

Photographer Brian Sokol, on assignment for UNHCR, captured the moment when Jean and others were rushed into the operating theatre. His images bear witness to desperation, grief, family unity and, ultimately, a struggle for survival.

Congolese Medics on Call For Refugees

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

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Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate

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