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Families fleeing insecurity in DR Congo make neighbouring Republic of the Congo their new home


Families fleeing insecurity in DR Congo make neighbouring Republic of the Congo their new home

In Ngabé, local residents share what little they have with refugees from the west of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
2 August 2023 Also available in:
At a market, a woman hands over a small baguette wrapped in paper to a customer.

Gaëlle (right), a refugee from the DRC, sells bread at a market in Ngabé.

At dawn, Gaëlle sets out on foot for the bakery in the small town of Ngabé, in south-eastern Republic of the Congo.

The 28-year-old mother of six selects 60 of the freshest loaves and negotiates the day’s wholesale price. Today, she pays the baker 4,500 francs ($7.50). Next, she heads to the market to sell the bread on, hoping to make a small profit that will help pay for basics for her family.

Gaëlle arrived in the Republic of the Congo in October last year with her husband and their children after being forced to abandon their farm and all their possessions to flee intercommunal violence in the territory of Kwamouth, on the opposite side of the Congo River in the west of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

More than 3,000 people were killed during violent land disputes between the Teke and Yaka communities from July 2022 to June 2023, which also caused at least 50,000 people to flee Kwamouth in search of safety in other parts of the DRC. Gaëlle was among another 5,000 who found refuge in the Republic of the Congo. Most of the refugees have settled in Ngabé town and in over 50 nearby villages and fishing camps lining the river.

Like Gaëlle, Charlotte was also forced to abandon everything, escaping across the river in a canoe. After arriving in the Republic of the Congo, a boat organized by the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in collaboration with local authorities, took her and other refugees on to Ngabé where she now sells fish to support herself.

“I buy from fishermen, then cook the fish and resell it at the market,” she said. “Everyone buys my fish: refugees and host populations alike.”

A portrait of a woman wearing a black and white dress.

Since fleeing the DRC, Charlotte cooks and sells fish at the market to support herself. 

Local communities in and around Ngabé have shown tremendous generosity towards the new arrivals who live side-by-side with the host population, said UNHCR Community Protection Officer Harlette Mafouenta: “There are no refugee camps here,” she said. "Following an appeal launched by the local authorities with the support of UNHCR, the populations of Ngabé agreed to welcome the refugees on their land.”

In total, 115 prefabricated housing units and shelters have been built, with the help of other refugees who settled nearby after fleeing a previous outbreak of inter-communal violence in western DRC in 2018.

Despite having little themselves, “some members of local communities have opened their doors or made houses available,” said Harlette. “The settlement of these families in the neighbourhoods, within the communities, helps their integration and makes it possible to pool the provision of basic services that benefit both the host populations and the refugees.”

Here, we live in peace and this is the most important thing.

While waiting for the situation back home to stabilize, Gaëlle, Charlotte, and the other refugees are settling into life alongside their hosts. They are finding work, such as selling bread and fish in the market, and are able to access some health services and send their children to school, but social services were overwhelmed even before the arrival of the refugees and need strengthening to cope with the increased demand.

Nell Mouandza, a local council official in Ngabé, called for more improvements to local infrastructure in case more refugees arrive. “If the violence persists and people continue to arrive from the DRC, we fear that we will not be able to house them,” he warned. “We have problems with access to water, and there is a lack of doctors and medicine.”

The Republic of the Congo hosts a total of 61,200 refugees and asylum-seekers, almost half of whom come from the DRC, yet UNHCR received only 16 per cent of the $37.4 million requested to meet their needs in 2022, and, to date, only 8 per cent of the $40.3 million requested for this year.

“We will stay here until the security situation improves in our villages in the DRC,” said Gaëlle, adding that she is grateful for the welcome she has received in Ngabé. “Here, we live in peace and that is the most important thing.”