UNHCR seeks extra US$40 million to help displaced Congolese this year

News Stories, 18 September 2012

© UNHCR/M.Sibiloni
Members of a Congolese family arrive in Kisoro district in southern Uganda after fleeing their village in eastern Congo's North Kivu province earlier this year.

GENEVA, September 18 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday launched an appeal for almost US$40 million to help close to half-a-million forcibly displaced Congolese civilians in the east of their country and in neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda.

Since fighting erupted in North Kivu province between government forces and the M23 rebel movement in April this year, an estimated 390,000 people have been internally displaced in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and more than 60,000 Congolese have fled to neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda.

"The situation remains volatile and we expect further displacement this year," UNHCR's chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, told journalists in Geneva, adding that the appeal, accordingly, covers the needs of 400,000 internally displaced people (IDP) in North Kivu, South Kivu and Orientale provinces and 75,000 refugees (25,000 in Rwanda and 50,000 in Uganda).

"If the violence and abuse of civilians continues to rise in the eastern provinces, the number of new IDPs [in the DRC] is expected to be even higher, and may reach as many as 760,000 in the coming months," she warned.

Fleming said the funding being sought in Tuesday's supplementary appeal included US$7.35 million for UNHCR's Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) operations, an extra US$12.2 million for Rwanda and US$20 million in Uganda. "This will cover the needs of up to 475,000 IDPs and refugees," she said.

The needs and challenges are great in areas such as protection, prevention of and protection against sexual violence, general assistance such as shelter and core relief items, basic services such as education, health, water and sanitation, infrastructure, logistical support, and camp coordination and management.

In the DRC, insecurity and the remoteness of IDP sites are major constraints to aid delivery and protection monitoring. In North Kivu, more than 127,000 new IDPs are living in 31 camps under UNHCR management, while many others are living with host families and in spontaneous settlements in and around the provincial capital of Goma. In recent weeks, more and more IDPs have been moving to spontaneous sites or camps, and less to host families.

Fleming said that specific needs in the eastern Congo included emergency shelter for 40,000 households in North Kivu and Province Orientale; basic domestic items for 15,000 households, including 2,000 spontaneous returnees from Uganda; sanitary material for 50,000 women; and family latrines for 10,000 households.

In Rwanda, scarcity of land is the main challenge. Kigeme refugee camp, which opened in June and hosted 13,000 people at the end of August, will have a capacity for 25,000 refugees. But it is located on hillsides in Southern province. To make the land fully useable, the hillsides need to be terraced, which is an expensive process.

In addition to the refugees at Kigeme, almost 7,000 were accommodated at the end of August at the crowded Nkamira Transit Centre, which needs upgrading. The extra funding is also needed in areas such as registration, aid packages, education, health, livelihoods, fuel, and construction of latrines.

Remoteness of the area and lack of access are also major challenges in Uganda. Infrastructure and basic services, including facilities such as health centres and schools, are lacking at the reopened Rwamwanja settlement. Some 24,000 people have been transferred from Nyakabande to Rwamwanja and two other settlements since April. Service delivery in Kisoro district's Nyakabande Transit Centre, where more than 40,000 people have been registered, is also a challenge. Another major concern is the high prevalence of malnutrition, with current levels among arrivals well above what is acceptable in an emergency.

The extra funding is needed, among other things, to boost protection and community services, reinforce basic services; construction or rehabilitation of roads and facilities in Rwamwanja, including health clinics and a laboratory; provision of at least 20 new classrooms in existing schools and creation of a new one; 120 new water sources or boreholes; and shelter and sanitation kits.

UNHCR declared its eastern Congo operation as an emergency late May after the fighting erupted in April. Unrelated fighting in South Kivu between Mai Mai militia and the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) has also caused displacement, while a power vacuum in parts of the east has caused further insecurity and suffering for civilians.

"We are particularly alarmed about the large number of human rights violations in North and South Kivu, where more than 15,000 protection incidents, including, murder, rape and forced recruitment have been reported since April. The real number is probably much higher," UNHCR's Fleming said.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), almost 2 million people are internally displaced in eastern DR Congo, including some 220,000 forced to flee their homes since April in North Kivu, 108,000 in South Kivu and 62,000 in Province Orientale.

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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.

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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.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

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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.

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