UNHCR chief concerned about "disastrous" displacement in eastern Congo

News Stories, 16 May 2012

© UNHCR/S.Modola
Congolese refugees gather earlier this week for a meeting in Nkamira transit centre, Rwanda, with UNHCR staff.

GENEVA, May 16 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Wednesday expressed alarm at new inflows of refugees this year into Rwanda and Uganda from fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

"The displacement level we see in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo is already disastrous," said Guterres in a statement released in Geneva. "Conflict there, coupled with very limited access for humanitarian workers, means that many thousands of people are without protection and help. And now people in need are appearing in neighbouring countries too."

Violence has afflicted the South and North Kivu areas of Democratic Republic of Congo over several years. But the situation has worsened in recent months amid recent fighting between government forces and soldiers loyal to former rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda, causing significant internal displacement and pushing thousands into Uganda and Rwanda.

UNHCR staff in Rwanda report that as of Tuesday more than 8,200 refugees had crossed from DRC's North Kivu province since April 27 and made their way to the Nkamira transit centre, some 20 kilometres inside Rwanda from the Goma-Gisenyi crossing. These are in addition to the 55,000 Congolese refugees that Rwanda is already hosting.

Although the violence across the border appears to have ebbed in recent days, an average of 100 people a day are arriving at the crowded transit centre, compared to about 1,000 daily in late April.

"We continue to brace ourselves for more arrivals," Anouck Bronée, a UNHCR associate external relations officer, said on Wednesday from Nkamira. "We're going to consolidate what we do here," she added. Two of the main concerns were providing shelter and health care at a time when it rains a lot.

Meanwhile, an expert team is due on Thursday to visit a site in Nyamababe district near the border with Burundi that could become a new refugee camp on land provided by the Rwandan government. UNHCR will take part.

In Uganda, government officials say that 30,000 refugees crossed the border to escape several days of fighting that erupted between the Congolese army and Ntaganda's supporters in Rutshuru territory on May 10.

UNHCR is unable to independently confirm the number, which includes Rwandans, but UNHCR's Sakura Atsumi, visiting the border town of Bunagana on Wednesday, said: "These are entire villages and families" living in areas close to the border. Most wish to stay in the border area, going back and forth as the situation allows, but sleeping in Uganda.

The refugee agency does not register arrivals or distribute aid at the border, but it provides this at the Nyakabande transit centre, some 20 kms away in Kisoro district. There are currently some 2,800 refugees at the centre, including 500 who were brought there from the border by UNHCR on Tuesday and 600 who made their own way there the same day. The camp has a capacity for 1,000 people.

UNHCR's Atsumi said a weekly convoy, carrying 500 people, was due to leave Nyakabande on Thursday for the Rwamwanja settlement, in Kamwenge district to the north of Kisoro, which was opened by the government on April 17 after the last influx. So far almost 3,700 refugees have been transferred to the settlement from Nyakabande.

Prior to this new inflow, Uganda was already host to more than 175,000 refugees, including almost 100,000 from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 22,800 from Somalia, 18,800 from Sudan and slightly more than 16,000 from Rwanda.

Since November 2011, when presidential and parliamentary elections were held in the DRC, an estimated 300,000 people have been newly displaced in North and South Kivu provinces. This is on top of the more than 1.1 million people in the area who had fled their homes during earlier violence. Countrywide, and including these numbers, more than 2 million people are now uprooted, according to UN figures.

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A Time Between: Moving on from Internal Displacement in Uganda

This document examines the situation of IDPs in Acholiland in northern Uganda, through the stories of individuals who have lived through conflict and displacement.

DR Congo Crisis: Urgent Appeal

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

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Advocacy

Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

Internally Displaced People

The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

Displaced by Fresh Fighting in North Kivu

Waves of fighting in eastern Democratic of the Republic since late April have displaced tens of thousands of people. Many have become internally displaced within the province, while others have fled to south-west Uganda's Kisoro district or to Rwanda via the Goma-Gisenyi crossing.

The stop-start clashes between government forces and renegade soldiers loyal to former rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda began in the province's Masisi and Walikale territories, but subsequently shifted to Rutshuru territory, which borders Uganda.

Between May 10-20, one of UNHCR's local NGO partners registered more than 40,000 internally displaced people (IDP) in Jomba and Bwesa sectors.

The IDPs are living in difficult conditions, staying in school buildings and churches or with host families. They lack food and shelter and have limited access to health facilities. Some of the displaced have reported cases of extortion, forced labour, beatings and recruitment of minors to fight.

UNHCR and other major aid organizations plan to distribute food, medicine and other aid. More than 300,000 people have been forcibly displaced in North and South Kivu since the start of the year, according to UN figures.

Displaced by Fresh Fighting in North Kivu

Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

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.

Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

Internally Displaced in Chad

In scenes of devastation similar to the carnage across the border in Darfur, some 20 villages in eastern Chad have been attacked, looted, burned and emptied by roving armed groups since 4 November. Hundreds of people have been killed, many more wounded and at least 15,000 displaced from their homes.

Some 7,000 people have gathered near Goz Beida town, seeking shelter under trees or wherever they can find it. As soon as security permits, UNHCR will distribute relief items. The UN refugee agency has already provided newly arrived IDPs at Habila camp with plastic sheeting, mats, blankets and medicine. The agency is scouting for a temporary site for the new arrivals and in the meantime will increase the number of water points in Habila camp.

The deteriorating security situation in the region and the effect it might have on UNHCR's operation to help the refugees and displaced people, is of extreme concern. There are 90,000 displaced people in Chad, as well as 218,000 refugees from Darfur in 12 camps in eastern Chad.

Posted on 30 November 2006

Internally Displaced in Chad

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