UNHCR chief meets urban refugees on Congo visit

Filippo Grandi hears how UNHCR assistance helped young refugee on way to becoming top IT specialist.

High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visits urban refugees and self-reliance projects in Kinshasa Democratic Republic of Congo DRC, April 5, 2018.
© UNHCR/Georgina Goodwin

UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi has met with successful refugee entrepreneurs living in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, during a landmark visit to the Great Lakes region.


Inside a hip and modern art gallery, Grandi spoke with men and women refugees who own clothing businesses, sell produce from farming, and work in innovation and technology. After hearing how they had triumphed over adversity, he praised their success stories and said they would serve to encourage others driven from their homes and forced to flee.

The refugees have benefitted from education, skills and business management training, supported by local partners and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

Emmanuel Hulem, fled war in the Central African Republic at 14, along with his family.  As refugees in Congo, the family was extremely poor, with Emmanuel responsible for helping his younger siblings. Wanting to go to school to better his life, Emmanuel received help through the urban refugee programme. Today he is an information technology specialist, who has won international awards for his innovations in the field.

Emmanuel said the support he received as a young refugee set the foundation for his future success.

“When I got my high school diploma I said to myself, I have made it,” he said. “I was motivated to continue on.”  

UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi visits urban refugees and self-reliance projects in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  © UNHCR/Georgina Goodwin

The Democratic Republic of Congo hosts over 540,000 refugees while also having several million people internally displaced and over 700,000 Congolese living as refugees in neighbouring countries.

“This is a very hospitable country, with open borders, ready to take in people from neighboring countries that have been in trouble for decades” said Grandi. “But it is also a country that has it’s own problems, that has produced refugees, sometimes in the same countries from where refugees come here."

The High Commissioner, who will be visiting Rwanda and Burundi on this trip, called the region “ a complex web of displacement.”