UNHCR seeks more than US$62 million to help uprooted Congolese
GENEVA, February 13 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday it is seeking a total of US$62 million for programmes aimed at helping hundreds of thousands of people displaced within the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as well as Congolese refugees in neighbouring countries.
"UNHCR is seeking $47 million to support the return and reintegration this year of some 98,500 Congolese refugees to their homeland. It is also asking donors for a further $15 million to provide protection and assistance during the same period for an estimated 1.1 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in the African nation," chief spokesman, Ron Redmond, told reporters in Geneva.
The agency hopes for a prompt and adequate response to its appeals from the donor community.
The two supplementary appeals - one for IDPs and one for refugees - cite important developments in the DRC last year, including the inauguration of President Joseph Kabila in December after the country's first democratic elections in four decades. This has raised hopes that Congolese living in exile and those displaced internally will soon be able to return to their homes.
Since October 2004, some 89,000 Congolese refugees have repatriated - mostly to Equateur, South Kivu and Katanga provinces. In addition, nearly half a million IDPs went back to their places of origin last year.
"We have to seize the chance and build on the positive developments, stability and number of returns achieved last year," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. "The international community has a unique opportunity here - if we can maintain the momentum and show Congolese that they are not alone. Timely funding is crucial for the successful repatriation and reintegration of Congolese refugees, as well as to anchor those who have already come home."
More than 400,000 Congolese still live in exile, virtually all of them in nine neighbouring countries. They live in camps or designated areas and most have no resources to return on their own. Some have spent decades in exile, waiting for lasting peace to return.
The US$47 million that UNHCR is seeking, in addition to the regular annual budget, will cover voluntary repatriation programmes for Congolese refugees from neighbouring countries such as Tanzania, Republic of Congo and Zambia.
UNHCR's main objectives are to ensure the voluntary nature of returns and to organise these movements in a safe and dignified manner. The refugee agency will also support the reintegration of returnees and facilitate their access to shelter as well as basic services such as health and education.
The number of IDPs in DRC fell by about a third last year, but there are still an estimated 1.1 million people displaced within the country. UNHCR's appeal for US$15 million for IDPs is aimed at helping these people, most of whom live with relatives or host families.
In the appeal, UNHCR projects that as many as 950,000 of the IDPs could return to their homes in 2007. However, hundreds of thousands of Congolese were newly displaced last year due to localised outbreaks of fighting and this remains a major concern for UNHCR. There is still an environment of widespread impunity in parts of the country, and the human rights of the displaced are often violated.
The extra funds will allow UNHCR to establish protection-monitoring mechanisms in the areas of displacement and return, and to conduct early warning and prevention activities. Security permitting, UNHCR will support the establishment of mechanisms to settle land and property disputes, providing humanitarian assistance to IDP returnees and promoting inter-ethnic coexistence.
There are considerable challenges for UNHCR and its humanitarian and development partners in achieving these objectives. Parts of the DRC, particularly in the east, remain volatile. The country is among the poorest in the world. Life expectancy is low, the rule of law is very weak and social and economic conditions are extremely difficult.
In addition, HIV/AIDS is a big problem and is exacerbated by the widespread lack of basic health and education services. Meanwhile, the poor communications and transportation networks in such a huge country make the work of UNHCR and its partners even more difficult.