Guterres calls for 'proportionate' international aid to DRC's Equateur province
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, July 22 (UNHCR) - High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has been in Kinshasa today as part of a three-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo to draw attention to the plight of Congo's displaced people and the need to ensure humanitarian access to them.
Guterres who travelled to Equateur province in western DRC on Wednesday, said that his agency was getting ready to re-establish a presence in the region to help the internally displaced as well as prepare for the return of refugees.
"The need is to prepare conditions for people to return to their homes," he said. During his visit to Dongo he met former Internally Displaced People (IDPs) who appealed to him for help in rebuilding their lives after violent ethnic clashes in which most houses were burned and infrastructure damaged. UNHCR offices in the area were also destroyed in the fighting, forcing the agency to suspend its operations in the area.
With improved security, UNHCR is planning to open offices in Dongo and Mbandaka. These areas are the places of origin of most of the 115,000 refugees currently in exile in neighbouring Republic of Congo - many of whom say they hope to go back once peace and security are restored in their home areas.
While promising his agency's assistance, Guterres cautioned that humanitarian assistance was merely "a drop in the ocean" compared to the development needs of their region.
"The root causes of the conflict must be addressed, and development programmes that ease economic and social integration must be implemented. The response of the international community has to be proportionate with the dimensions of and the nature of the problems," he added.
Guterres is scheduled to travel to North Kivu province on Friday with the World Food Programme's Executive Director Josette Sheeran.
Fighting between militia groups and the Congolese armed forces, as well as violence against civilians, has displaced some 1.85 million people internally and created 450,000 refugees - most hosted in neighbouring countries. Last year alone, close to 210,000 were displaced from Equateur province - both internally, and across to neighbouring countries. Over a million other people were displaced in eastern DRC.
Insecurity has hampered humanitarian access in several areas. So far this year UNHCR has recorded 116 attacks against humanitarian workers.
Sheeran and Guterres will travel to Kampala at the weekend for the African Union summit opening scheduled for July 25th.
By Celine Schmitt in Kinshasa, and Fati Lejeune-Kaba in Geneva