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Congo

On the run

by Cathrine Schweikardt

In brief

A boy in a refugee camp near Goma

A boy in a refugee camp near Goma

There are more than 1.8 million displaced persons in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1.4 million of them in the crisis-torn eastern provinces of North and South Kivu alone. Human Rights Watch has published recommendations to enable those forced to flee their homes finally to settle down eight years after the war.

Continuing violence by armed groups in eastern Congo is preventing people from returning home. Congolese and Rwandan army operations also periodically trigger new waves of refugees. Many people have been forced to flee their homes five times, according to the Human Rights Watch report entitled “Always on the Run: The Vicious Cycle of Displacement in Eastern Congo”.

Of the internally displaced persons (IDPs), 80 % are taken in by host families. The rest flee to the camps set up by aid agencies or hide in the forest near their villages to stay close to their fields and property. In the report, Human Rights Watch sets out recommendations addressed to the Congolese government, the United
Nations, its MONUSCO Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo task force and international donors:
– The Congolese army and MONUSCO need to protect IDPs better – for example by increasing patrols and more regular reporting. Outside the towns, the people are exposed to assaults by rebels groups such as the FDLR or PARECO but also by the Congolese army. The abuses they have faced include forced labour, extortion, beatings, rape and death.
– The government needs to observe a policy of “zero tolerance” on crimes against IDPs and make sure that all such crimes are prosecuted – including those committed by members of regular Congolese security forces.
– The government must not force refugees to return areas that are not safe. The refugee camps prove that, contrary to the assertions of President Joseph Kabila, eastern Congo is neither stable nor safe. At present, the government is pressuring displaced people to return to their villages. In September 2009, the report says, five UN-run camps housing 60,000 people were emptied overnight. Whether the IDPs really returned home or moved to other camps was not monitored.
– The government and the UN should consult more with refugees to find out what IDPs need and how they could be better protected.
– International donors should ensure that sufficient resources are available to assist IDPs. The people have been struggling with hunger, disease and destitution. They have hardly any access to
education or healthcare. The report finds that aid agencies often fail to reach IDPs because of logistical and security problems.

(Cathrine Schweikhardt)