24 April 2007 The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are rushing aid to mitigate the suffering of tens of thousands of people forced to flee their homes after an outbreak of fighting in north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
In North Kivu province alone, close to 65,000 people have been displaced in recent weeks due to intensified fighting between militias and government forces.
Some of the internally displaced people (IDPs) are living in makeshift camps approximately 100 kilometres from the city of Goma in the country’s north-east, while thousands of others are living in the bush – hiding during the day and going to their fields at night.
“The latest fighting underlines the need for a strong humanitarian presence in eastern Congo,” said Charles Vincent, WFP’s DRC Country Director, adding that humanitarian agencies play a key role in “assisting those caught up in fighting as well as providing for others who are able to settle down when peace prevails.”
To date, WFP has provided over 1,000 metric tonnes of food to 68,000 IDPs in North Kivu.
To identify human rights concerns and the needs of IDPs, UNHCR’s rapid monitoring teams have conducted 25 assessments at several hotspots in areas affected by renewed fighting. The agency is discussing reports it has received from victims regarding serious human rights abuses at the hands of armed groups with the DRC’s military and local authorities.
As violence rages in the north-eastern portion of the country, which is trying to rebuild after decades of civil war and misrule, nearly 100,000 refugees, including some who fled eight years ago, have been able to return home thanks to stability in other regions.
UNHCR is assisting the voluntary return of Congolese refugees from five neighbouring countries, including Tanzania and Burundi. Since the start of the year, a lower-than-expected 8,000 people have returned to their home country, as many refugees are concerned about the difficult living conditions in the DRC.
Meanwhile, more than 1.1 million Congolese have been displaced within the DRC by conflict and persecution, and rely on the UN and its partner agencies for aid and protection.
“Despite all the country’s troubles, the DRC is at the heart of solutions for long-standing refugee problems throughout Africa’s Great Lakes region,” said Eusebe Hounsokou, UNHCR Representative in the country’s capital, Kinshasa, adding that refugees from Sudan, Angola and Burundi have taken refuge in the DRC.
The agency provides returning refugees with help in building mud-brick houses and assists in rebuilding health centres, while WFP distributes a three-month supply of food.