Congolese returns from Tanzania threatened by lack of food – UN refugee agency

25 September 2007

Serious food shortages are threatening the voluntary return of Congolese refugees from camps in western Tanzania, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Serious food shortages are threatening the voluntary return of Congolese refugees from camps in western Tanzania, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The agency has successfully been assisting refugees return to South Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for over two years by ferrying them across Lake Tanganyika from Kigoma in Tanzania to Baraka in the DRC.

But this programme was plunged into uncertainty after an announcement by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) that it does not have sufficient supplies to feed some 16,000 Congolese expected to return to their home country by the end of this year.

“If we do not receive more food, we will be forced to suspend repatriation from Tanzania,” said Magatte Guisse, who heads UNHCR’s office in Baraka, a small DRC town on the western shores of Lake Tanganyika. “”This will be a big blow to what has been a very successful operation.”

In the past two weeks, Congolese repatriating from Tanzania have received only half the rations – including maize, beans, vegetable, oil and salt – generally distributed to refugees upon their arrival in Baraka. Instead of receiving a three-month supply, they are only given enough food to meet needs for six weeks.

Of the 54,000 Congolese who have returned to the DRC via the Kigoma-Baraka route, UNHCR has assisted almost 40,000 of them.

Additionally, WFP cautioned that UNHCR’s repatriation programmes in other regions of the DRC will also be impeded unless more food stocks can be procured. The two agencies are considering diverting food stocks from countries which host Congolese refugees, such as Tanzania and Zambia.

UNHCR said food support is essential for the refugees’ reintegration, as many fled their home country more than a decade ago. While most returning to South Kivu take up farming, they need assistance in feeding their families before their first harvest.

Meanwhile, schools in the Fizi district of South Kivu are overwhelmed by the deluge of pupils enrolling at local schools, due largely to the fact that refugees returning to the area were staying in lowland areas to avoid the violence between Government forces and rebels in other parts of the province.

“Our classes are so crowded that teachers have no room to move about,” said Sumaili Nyongolo, head teacher at Mama Yemo Primary School in Fizi. “Pupils are sitting right under the blackboard.”

Some 16,000 refugees, including 6,400 children, are predicted to return to South Kivu’s Fizi and Uvira districts by the end of this year, and UNHCR fears that some Congolese may delay their repatriation for fear of not getting their children into school in the area.

Humanitarian agencies and Government officials are seeking means to accommodate the surge in the number of schoolchildren by looking into the possibility of double shifts and the construction of additional classrooms and new schools.

In a related development, a senior UN official in the DRC visited Bunia in Ituri province in north-eastern DRC in a bid to end the impasse in the third phase of the disarmament, demobilization and reinsertion (DDR) programme.

While 4,665 combatants registered for the initiative, only 1,331 – including 258 women – have disarmed thus far.

“After all the years of disarmament, it must now be completed,” Ross Mountain, the Secretary-General Deputy Special Representative, told the leaders of three armed groups participating in the programme. “Plans for stabilization and the revival of the economy are ready, and Ituri could be a beacon of development in the DRC,” he said, stressing the programme’s impending deadline on 30 September.

 

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