This is a summary of what was said by Elizabeth Tan, UNHCR’s Director of International Protection – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has released today an updated return advisory for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), reiterating its call for a ban on forced returns, including of asylum-seekers who have had their claims rejected, to the eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri.
UNHCR also calls on States to grant refugees access to their territory and treat them in accordance with the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, and the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
UNHCR is concerned about a rise in attacks on civilians, including those residing in sites for displaced people in the east of the country.
In one such heinous attack on the Plaine Savo camp in Ituri Province in February 2022, a non-state armed group killed at least 62 people and injured more than 40 others. Since February, attacks like this one have resulted in over 1,000 deaths of people sheltering in displacement sites or attempting to return to their homes. Since the beginning of 2022, UNHCR has recorded more than 50,000 violations against the rights of the civilian population, including refugees and internally displaced people.
Escalating armed conflict is further exacerbating the situation. Since 20 October, 188,000 people have been newly displaced by fighting between the M23 rebel group and the Congolese Army. Even before the latest spike in displacement, an estimated 5.6 million Congolese were internally displaced. Another 1 million have found refuge in 22 countries in Africa, making it one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises. The vast majority, 4.9 million, were internally displaced by conflict across North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri while nearly 700,000 have been displaced due to extreme weather.
Humanitarian needs continue to rise and humanitarian access is significantly constrained while humanitarian programmes are severely underfunded. UNHCR has received just 43 per cent of the funds needed this year with less than 6 weeks before the end of 2022.
States have a legal and moral responsibility to allow those fleeing ongoing conflict to seek safety, be accorded asylum in line with the 1969 OAU Convention, and as applicable, under the 1951 Refugee Convention, and not to forcibly return refugees. UNHCR’s advisory against forced returns to the DRC’s provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri remains in effect until conditions improve enough to allow for safe and dignified returns.
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