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Courage of Congolese refugees should be matched by solidarity of international community, says High Commissioner

News Stories, 28 February 2006

© UNHCR/K.McKinsey
The heads of three of the UN's largest humanitarian agencies (left to right) James Morris of WFP, Ann M. Veneman of UNICEF and António Guterres of UNHCR, wave to returning Congolese refugees disembarking in Baraka, DRC.

BARAKA, DRC, Feb 28 (UNHCR) Speaking in their own language, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres Tuesday welcomed 401 Congolese refugees home as they disembarked in Baraka from a former German imperial warship that is said to the oldest working vessel in the world.

"Karibu sana, karibu sana, karibu sana," Guterres called out to the returnees in Kiswahili "you are very welcome" as they arrived in this port in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after an eight-hour journey across Lake Tanganyika from refugee camps in Tanzania where they have lived for up to nine years.

Since last October, the UN refugee agency has brought home more than 11,000 refugees on ships that make the crossing twice a week.

The German-made MV Liemba, which brought this group home, began life in 1912 as the Graf von Poetzen, and was carried by porters overland to the lake in 5,000 crates to be re-assembled as a warship when Tanzania was a German colony. Although it has been sunk twice over the years, it always came back to life and was converted from steam to diesel in the 1970s, when it resumed life as a transport ship.

After meeting Tuesday's returnees, as well as returnee schoolchildren who returned earlier, Guterres said "there is no task that is more noble than helping people go back to their homeland."

He said the courage of Congolese refugees in going home to a war-ravaged country that is short on all basic services must be matched by "the solidarity of the international community."

Guterres called on all the people in the West who are sitting comfortably in their own homes with their own families to put pressure on their politicians to help the DRC and to help all refugees to return home.

On the third day of an unprecedented joint mission with the heads of the World Food Programme and UNICEF, James Morris and Ann M. Veneman, Guterres visited two schools in this town in South Kivu, which barely existed a year ago before refugees started coming home.

At M'Shimbakye Primary School, a teenage girl welcomed the three visitors and thanked the three UN agencies for their contributions: the UN children's fund, UNICEF, for school materials; WFP for food for pupils and their mothers, and UNHCR for school furniture, school fees and uniforms.

Still, the teenager told them, many problems remain. "Many pupils are forced to drop out because of the inability of parents to pay school fees," she said. "The school has not been totally rehabilitated and we don't have enough school books."

After serving beans and rice (donated by WFP) to some of the pupils, Guterres paid homage "with a great deal of emotion" to the courage of the Congolese people in registering to vote and then voting in a constitutional referendum in huge numbers. Democratic elections are scheduled for June for the first time in 45 years.

He said that for the international community, what is at stake in this huge nation in the heart of Africa is not only the lives of individual Congolese, "but one is playing with the stability of Africa and the peace of the world."

After a five-hour visit to Baraka, the three heads of agencies were scheduled to travel to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, where they are to meet President Paul Kagame.

By Kitty McKinsey in Baraka, DRC

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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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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.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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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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