Reintegration project offers hope and homes to displaced Congolese
A pilot project in the DRC's Northern Kivu province has helped over 10,000 displaced Congolese rebuild their lives
Balasema Kabera grins widely as she stands outside her sturdy wooden house in Rusayo in Northern Kivu province. The 64-year old widow’s face lights up as she looks around the plot of land where she lives with her three children and four adopted orphans.
“My life has really changed since we got this land and this house,” she says. Before, she was living in a camp for internally displaced people. “Life was very difficult but now I am really satisfied.”
Kabera has been internally displaced twice as a result of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province. She first fled her home in 1998 and then, once again, fourteen years later.
“Life was very difficult but now I am really satisfied.”
Now, she and more than 10,000 formerly displaced people and returned refugees have finally settled down in permanent houses, thanks to a pilot reintegration project, funded by the Government of Germany and carried out by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
The project, which begun four years ago, has enabled Kabera and other Congolese to reintegrate in parts of the province that were formerly conflict zones, helping them care for their families and reduce their need for humanitarian support.
One year after the project’s completion, Germany’s Ambassador to the DRC, Thomas Terstegen, visited the area recently to assess progress made towards reintegrating the families.
“I am impressed by their resilience and how with a bit of support, they have moved out of the displacement camps and settled again,” he remarked. “There are still needs that affect everybody in this area – lack of water supply, lack of jobs – but the first step is done.”
To help people integrate permanently, the project has addressed several key areas ranging from infrastructure to peaceful cohabitation between the formerly displaced, returned refugees and locals.
Schools and health centres have been upgraded, shelter conditions of extremely vulnerable people like Kabera improved, 2,700 people have received help to find work, including through professional training, and local conflict resolution structures have been supported. There was a steady monitoring of the protection conditions of returnees who have also been assisted to get documentation from civil registration offices.
“I am impressed by their resilience and how with a bit of support, they have moved out of the displacement camps and settled again.”
Not only returnees have benefitted from these activities, but also those who cannot return to their areas of origin and want to integrate where they are. Masumbuko Lombo is one of them.
“I do not want to leave from here as I have nothing to return to,” says the 43-year old who says his land was sold and right arm amputated after he was shot at. “I lived in a camp for the displaced until we came here, after the local chief gave us plots of land,” he adds as he gestures around his new home.
“This project serves as an example of what is possible and it can be replicated elsewhere.”
“This project serves as an example of what is possible and it can be replicated elsewhere,” says Ann Encontre, UNHCR’s Regional Representative based in Kinshasa. “In many regions in the DRC, we have seen new conflicts and new displacements lately but in other areas, people want to return and rebuild their lives.”
The project’s impact is evident not far from where Lombo lives, where a new school building was set up. The new classrooms helped to increase the number of students – from 400 to almost 600 – taking in formerly displaced children.
“This is contributing to the peaceful coexistence of returnees and their hosts,” says the Regional Representative who adds that the aim was to empower people and prepare the ground for long-term development, rather than to simply provide humanitarian aid.