UN refugee agency appeals for over $60 million to protect uprooted Congolese
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today launched a $62 million drive to help over a million people who have been forced to flee their homes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – both those who became internally displaced and others crossing borders to surrounding countries.
The move follows last year’s historic polls, which saw President Joseph Kabila elected in the first multi-party elections held in the DRC in more than four decades, raising hope that exiled Congolese, numbering over 400,000, as well as those internally displaced would be able to return home.
“Timely funding is crucial for the successful repatriation and reintegration of Congolese refugees, as well as to anchor those who have already come home,” said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “We have to seize the chance and build on the positive developments, stability and number of returns achieved last year.”
The agency is requesting $47 million to bolster efforts for the voluntary repatriation and reintegration of almost 100,000 refugees from DRC’s neighbours such as Tanzania and Zambia. UNHCR anticipates a safe and dignified return for the refugees, and will put the funds towards sheltering them and providing access to health and education services.
UNHCR is also seeking an additional $15 million to protect and assist more than one million IDPs, despite a drop in their number by one third in 2006. The agency expects almost a million could return to their places of origin thanks to the fund this year.
“The international community has a unique opportunity here – if we can maintain the momentum and show Congolese that they are not alone,” the High Commissioner said, voicing hope that donors will respond to the appeal quickly.
In the past two years, almost 90,000 Congolese refugees have returned to their homeland, mostly to three provinces: Equateur in the north, South Kivu in the east and Katanga in the south. Nearly half a million IDPs have returned to their original homes last year.
Despite the formal end in 1999 of a civil war which cost 4 million lives due to fighting, hunger and disease, threats to law and order remain, jeopardizing the human rights of the displaced. Outbreaks of violence last year have driven hundreds of thousands of Congolese from their homes.
UNCHR faces numerous humanitarian and development challenges in the DRC, one of the poorest countries in the world, where the security situation is still extremely volatile. The agency will utilize the funds to establish protection-monitoring and early warning and prevention programmes to assist newly-repatriated refugees in the DRC.