• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Congolese mother seeks new birth back home

Telling the Human Story, 16 February 2012

© UNHCR/D.Biciu
Odette's children have grown up in 15th April refugee camp in Betou, Republic of the Congo.

BETOU, Republic of the Congo, February 16 (UNHCR) She looks like an adolescent, but at 25 years of age, Odette already has five children of her own. The sixth will arrive next month, and she is hoping it will not be born in a refugee camp.

For two years now Odette and her family have been living at the "15th April" refugee camp in Betou, north-eastern Republic of the Congo. They left behind a good life in Dongo, located across the Oubangui river in the north-western part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She used to buy fresh fish by the river and sell them in the city market. Her husband, a nurse, owned his own clinic. They also had some farming land to supplement the family income.

In 2010, fighting erupted between two local ethnic groups, the Bobas and Lobalas. Overnight, Odette's family was forced to flee with no food, belongings or documents. Heavily pregnant, Odette joined her husband, children and others at the river, crossing in dugout canoes in the dark. When they reached Betou, they registered as refugees with the UNHCR field office.

Life is hard at the 15th April camp, home to more than 3,000 Congolese refugees like Odette. UNHCR provides them with limited food aid and relief supplies such as blankets and soap, which is crucial in the fight against diseases in the cholera-ridden tropical forest.

"We are surviving because the UNHCR is helping us, but God knows that this life is very difficult for us," said Odette. "I am the man of the house now, because my husband cannot find any job here with no documents."

To survive, Odette works on local farms when she can, but jobs are rare and competition is rife. Now eight months pregnant, the agricultural work is putting her health at risk. Her doctor at Médecins Sans Frontières has warned that her cervix is open and she could lose the baby. But she has no choice; no work means no food for the family. Already, her five-year-old son is showing signs of malnutrition.

Despite the daily struggles, Odette has reason to smile: UNHCR will soon start voluntary repatriation to Dongo. "I am about to give birth, but I want to become a mother again in my country."

She added, "I've heard that our house does not exist anymore. It's very unrealistic to say that life will be easy back in Dongo again, but there, we will have more options, we will live better and our kids too, especially if we shall be able to get back our land. My husband also wants us to leave; it's about his dignity as a man, with no work here. We are just waiting for UNHCR to start the repatriation process. We are ready."

More than 11,000 Congolese refugees have already returned to the DRC on their own. Some 130,000 remain in the Republic of Congo, the majority of them women. UNHCR estimates that more than 80,000 could return in the coming months.

By Daniela Livia Biciu

In Betou, Republic of the Congo

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

DR Congo Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Intense fighting has forced more than 64,000 Congolese to flee the country in recent months.

Donate to this crisis

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

Returnees in Myanmar

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.

Posted on 6 November 2008

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.

Posted on 28 May 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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

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

The 2013 winner of UNHCR`s Nansen Refugee Award is Sister Angelique Namaika, who works in the remote north east region of Democratic Republic of the Congo with survivors of displacement and abuse by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). She has helped over 2000 displaced women and girls who have suffered the most awful kidnapping and abuse, to pick up the pieces of their lives and become re-accepted by their communities.
Uganda: New Camp, New ArrivalsPlay video

Uganda: New Camp, New Arrivals

Recent fighting in eastern Congo has seen thousands of civilians flee to a new camp, Bubukwanga, in neighboring Uganda.
DR Congo: Tears of RapePlay video

DR Congo: Tears of Rape

Eastern DRC remains one of the most dangerous places in Africa, particularly for women.