South Sudan refugees in Congo make market vibrant success

Resourceful and enterprising refugees from South Sudan have set up a successful market in a remote corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Over 200 Congolese and South Sudanese stallholders sell food and other items at the market.
© UNHCR/Colin Delfosse

From food to furniture, clothing to haircuts, the bustling market in the settlement of Meri in the rural northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a colourful example of refugees’ resourcefulness and how they can contribute to the local economy.

Just over a year after the first refugees arrived from South Sudan in this poor and remote area, stalls offering a vast range of products and services attract traders and customers among refugees and Congolese residents alike.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, supports economic activity by more than 30,000 South Sudanese refugees in Meri to help them become self-reliant.

Cash grants by the World Food Programme, distributed with the support of UNHCR, help money to circulate, and the allocation of agricultural land by the local authorities and the provision of tools and seeds by UNHCR and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization contribute to the entrepreneurial activities of the settlement.



Tailor Lilia Fakira, 30, is a refugee from Yei in South Sudan. "I make seven dresses a day, but my machine is very old," she says. The fact that refugees receive cash grants helps her business, the mother of four says, as the money is also used to buy clothes: "After the cash distributions, I have a lot of work."  © UNHCR/Colin Delfosse



The market has attracted vendors from among the local Congolese population. Roger Likamdo, 35, sells brightly coloured lengths of cloth known as "pagnes", worn as skirts by women or used to make other items of clothing. "We sell a lot to South Sudanese refugees. We have good relations with them."  © UNHCR/Colin Delfosse



Photographer Victor Garase, 23, fled Yei in South Sudan in January 2017 after armed men killed his father. He just had time to put his camera and some clothes in a bag and run. He has opened a photo studio in a wooden shack, modest in comparison with the one he had at home.  © UNHCR/Colin Delfosse



About half of the stalls sell locally produced vegetables and food.  © UNHCR/Colin Delfosse



Carpenter Richard Lekambo, 29, has set up an open-air workshop. He makes beds, chairs and tables, but he says business is tough. “It's difficult to make a living.”  © UNHCR/Colin Delfosse



Stalls selling fresh meat line one street of the market, catering for those who can afford it. "Life is hard here," says butcher Simon Jamba Mikita, 29. "The price of animals is expensive."   © UNHCR/Colin Delfosse



Musician Isaac Eli, 19, fled South Sudan in August 2017 and arrived in Meri, where he hopes to earn money playing with his band, New System. He has built his guitar himself. "Playing music is our only occupation. I hope one day we'll get money from it."  © UNHCR/Colin Delfosse



"I left because of the war", says hairdresser, David Luate, 18. "I have an average of 15 clients a day." He bought hairdressing materials in Uganda and charges 500 Congolese francs (about 30 US cents) per customer.  © UNHCR/Colin Delfosse



Emeline Amanjou Martine, 38, runs one of several small restaurants at one end of the market. She had her own restaurant in South Sudan and has just started up a new business at Meri jointly with her sister, Evelyn. A dish of beans and rice costs 2,000 Congolese francs (about US$ 1.30). "We do not have many clients because there is a lot of competition."   © UNHCR/Colin Delfosse



Several stalls provide phone recharging facilities, using power generated by solar panels. Denis Mukili, 17, has worked at one since he arrived in March 2017 with his brother. "I earn two hundred Congolese francs (about 13 US cents) for each phone recharge."  © UNHCR/Colin Delfosse



Augustino Mana, 35, is one of several people who repair bicycles just outside the main market. "It costs 500 Congolese francs (about 30 US cents) to fix a bike, four times less than in South Sudan."  © UNHCR/Colin Delfosse