UNHCR seeks US$70 million to help displaced Congolese in Great Lakes area

News Stories, 5 March 2013

© UNHCR/S.Modola
Congolese civilians carry their belongings as they escape fighting last year between government forces and the M23 rebel group in North Kivu province.

Emergency response for the situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo Supplementary Budget Appeal

GENEVA, March 5 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday launched an appeal for an extra US$69.6 million to help hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced Congolese civilians in the volatile Great Lakes region this year.

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva that the money was needed to help people uprooted last year by conflict in DRC's North and South Kivu provinces as well as anticipated displacements this year within Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and to neighbouring countries, and returns of internally displaced people (IDP).

The extra funding includes US$22.6 for the DRC, US$7 million for Burundi, US$17.7 million for Rwanda and US$22.3 million for Uganda. This is on top of the US$282.4 million budget for 2013 that was approved last October by UNHCR's governing body for all operations in these four countries.

"The money is vital for meeting the basic needs of the estimated 453,600 Congolese civilians displaced within the DRC and across borders because of the violence last year in North and South Kivu provinces, including 5,600 refugees in Burundi, 23,000 in Rwanda and 35,000 in Uganda," Edwards said.

The appeal document said the beneficiaries also included 50,000 newly displaced people and 50,000 IDP returnees forecast for this year as well as an anticipated 5,400 refugees in Burundi, 11,000 in Rwanda and 40,000 in Uganda.

"The supplementary funding covers the costs of registering refugees, protection activities for refugees and IDPs, construction of a new refugee camp in Burundi, infrastructure improvement at sites for the displaced and transit centres in all four countries; distribution of shelter and non-food aid; and support for basic services in IDP and refugee sites, including health, education, and water and sanitation.

In the DRC, specific activities include distribution of 16,600 transitional shelters, increased protection monitoring, construction of 16,000 latrines in return sites and villages, drilling of 35 new wells and installation of water distribution systems.

"In Burundi, aside from constructing a new camp in Cankuzo for 10,000 people, we also intend to establish and equip two new transit centres and launch vocational training initiatives in the camp," Edwards said.

"Our plans for Rwanda centre on the Kigeme refugee camp, which was reopened and expanded last year and will soon reach its capacity of 16,000. Facilities need to be developed and homes repaired and we aim to strengthen the local and health services to cater for the refugee population," he added.

In Uganda, UNHCR will continue to maintain and improve the two main transit centres in the south as well as the Rwamwanja settlement, which is expected to reach its maximum capacity of 50,000 during the year. Plans include creating new villages and associated infrastructure at the settlement, allocating land, shelter materials and basic relief items for 13,500 newly arrived families. UNHCR also plans to boost health care and education facilities.

The supplementary budget appeal comes amid rising political uncertainty and tension and fresh displacement in eastern DRC following a power struggle within the rebel M23 movement. Thousands of people have been displaced within North Kivu province, including some 3,000-4,000 who took refugee around the base of UN peacekeepers in Kitchanga, while more than 4,000 have fled to Uganda over the past week.

After three years of relative peace between the government and a myriad of armed groups in the east, fighting broke out last March-April in North Kivu between the army and a group of mutineers, who called themselves the M23.

Waves of combat forced huge numbers of civilians to flee to safer areas within DRC or to neighbouring countries. Last November, the M23 briefly held the provincial capital, Goma. Peace talks began in December in Kampala, but last week the future looked uncertain once more when the military and political wings of the M23 split and fighting erupted. Days earlier, regional African leaders meeting in Addis Ababa had signed a UN-brokered accord aimed at bringing peace in the region.

"The fresh uncertainty in the region makes this appeal all the more important and reinforces how fragile and unstable the situation is and how important it is that the international community helps those who suffer most the civilians, many of whom have been displaced multiple times," UNHCR's Edwards said. "Indeed, the humanitarian situation in the DRC has deteriorated over the past six months and there is a serious risk of large-scale epidemics such as cholera and measles."

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that there are currently some 914,000 IDPs in North Kivu and 912,000 in South Kivu. Most live with host communities, but some 114,000 live in camps.