Concerns about shelter as Congolese refugees arrive in Rwanda

News Stories, 7 May 2012

© UNHCR/A.Bronee
Congolese refugees arrive at the Nkamira Transit Centre in Rwanda.

NKAMIRA TRANSIT CENTRE, Rwanda, May 7 (UNHCR) Teenager Arsène is all alone in Rwanda; he was separated from his family in the rush to flee fighting between government forces and renegade troops in eastern Congo.

"When the soldiers started to shoot, I ran. I thought my family was following," the 15-year-old told UNHCR after arriving at the Nkamira Transit Centre. He was one of more than 6,200 people to flee to Rwanda from Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province since April 27.

Most are women, children and the elderly coming from North Kivu's Masisi and Walikale territories, where the fighting between government forces and soldiers loyal to former rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda also left almost 20,000 people internally displaced. News reports on Sunday said the army had ended its operations against mutinous troops.

Arsène said the fighting was chaotic, and civilians were caught in the crossfire. "I first heard gunshots, then I saw soldiers coming from behind a hill. One soldier was shot in the head. I do not know which side he was fighting for, all soldiers were wearing the same uniform," he recalled.

"I fled only with the clothes on my back," said Arsène, who was wearing his white school shirt under a dark blue sweater. "I am in Rwanda, but I am alone now," the boy said, his voice growing soft.

Sarah's family were also separated in the flight to Rwanda from their village in Masisi territory, which lies to the west of the North Kivu capital, Goma. She was working in the fields when the conflict swept into their area.

"Suddenly, our neighbours came rushing by, screaming. They said there was fighting in the area, so I hurried home. Two of my children were gone, I don't know where they ran. I took my [other five] children, I took a few kilos of beans, and I ran," the 40-year-old widow said, with a resigned look.

People have become almost inured to the cycle of violence in eastern Congo, and many have been displaced several times. Others resting in the massive warehouse tents (rubb halls) in Nkamira have similar tales to Sarah. But she also remained hopeful, purtting her faith in the ability of UNHCR and its partners to help find her missing two children.

This latest influx of people from North Kivu has put great strain on the Nkamira Transit Centre, which was visited on Sunday by officials from North Kivu, including Governor Julien Paluku Kahongya, who thanked Rwanda for hosting the refugees and said he hoped they could all go home soon.

After crossing into Rwanda at the border town of Gisenyi, the new arrivals have been transported by UNHCR and its partners to the Nkamira Transit Centre, 22 kilometres to the east. They are provided with food and items such as plastic mats, jerry cans, and crockery, but shelter is a major concern because the transit centre was only built to accommodate 2,600 people. With the urgent rehabilitation of 19 old rubb hall tents and the construction of 13 new ones, the capacity will be increased to 5,400.

Meanwhile, the government of Rwanda, UNHCR and many of its partners have worked tirelessly to provide clean water, sanitation facilities and basic health services. But if people continue arriving at a high rate, there will soon be critical gaps in humanitarian assistance.

Liz Ahua, deputy director of UNHCR's Africa Bureau, warned that "a new site will have to be found if more refugees continue to arrive on a daily basis."The rate of arrival has fallen since last week, but almost 400 entered Rwanda on Sunday.

While the UN refugee agency is discussing longer-term solutions with the Rwandan government, urgent donor support is needed in the short term. Rwanda is already hosting some 55,000 Congolese refugees who live in three already crowded camps across the country.

In recent years, the Nkamira Centre has hosted Rwandans as they returned to their home country from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They stayed here for one or two days before being transported to their villages of origin by UNHCR.

By Anouck Bronée in Nkamira Transit Centre, Rwanda.




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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