UN launches massive clothing distribution to Congolese refugees ahead of rainy season

UN launches massive clothing distribution to Congolese refugees ahead of rainy season

Displaced children
The United Nations refugee agency has launched a widespread clothing distribution operation to help over 50,000 camp dwellers prepare for the coming rainy season in the Ituri region of the strife-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“The distribution of the clothes is addressing one of the most pressing humanitarian needs of the internally displaced population,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) DRC representative Eusebe Hounsokou said today.

The massive operation, assisted by a local non-governmental organization (NGO) called ADSSE, began last Saturday at the Gety camp, home to more than 46,000 internally displaced persons (IDP), and will move later this week to Kagaba camp, which houses almost 13,000, UNHCR said.

Last week, the agency gave heads of households at the camps tokens entitling them to trousers, skirts, blouses, shirts and t-shirts, according to their needs.

The majority of the IDPs in both camps arrived between June and July, fleeing from violent clashes between the army and rebel forces. Most left all their belongings behind and are in urgent need of clothing, footwear and soap, UNHCR said.

The operation is the agency’s second such effort to help Congolese IDPs. In October, UNHCR provided over 6,300 IDPs in Katanga province with a return package that included kitchen sets, mosquito nets, blankets, plastic sheets, jerry cans and tools to construct basic shelter.

The agency is also currently planning return and reintegration projects in the Ituri region that should allow one quarter of the Gety and Kagaba camp dwellers to travel home early next year.

A key challenge UNHCR faces is extremely heavy seasonal rainfall, which has already caused massive mudslides in South Kivu province last week, halting the repatriation of thousands of returnees by boat from Tanzania, UNCHR said.

Plans to restart ferry service across Lake Tanganyika today have been postponed after huge rocks, some the size of trucks, cascaded down the mountainside, blocking the main road between the port of Baraka, where refugees disembark, and Uvira, where a fleet of UNHCR vehicles used to transport the returnees remains stranded, the agency said.

“We hope to start the repatriation movements again as soon as possible,” said UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis.

She told reporters in Geneva today that UN agencies in the area, including UN peacekeepers, are hammering out a plan to clear roads.

At the beginning of the year, clashes between army and rebel forces triggered the flight of an estimated 1.6 million IDPs, including 375,000 in the Ituri region. As calm slowly returns to the country, thousands have already begun to return to their homes, but 420,000 Congolese refugees still live in surrounding countries, including 130,000 in Tanzania.

Meanwhile, the Security Council reiterated today in a formal statement its tribute to Congolese voters for showing their civic responsibility, and welcomed the support provided by the UN and other international partners for the holding of the elections.

“The Security Council recalls that these elections are historic for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and looks forward to the installation of a democratically elected government,” said Security Council President for November Jorge Voto-Bernales, Ambassador of Peru, who welcomed the poll in comments to the press last week.