In 2018, the crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) drastically worsened, spreading to previously unaffected areas and impacting the Great Lakes region. The ongoing conflicts across much of eastern DRC continued to cause significant population displacement, damage to property, tragic loss of human life and other serious human rights violations. While the majority of displaced people remained within the country, a total of 159,074 new refugees fled the DRC in 2018. From January to December 2018, there was a significant increase in refugee flows to Uganda with 119,919 new arrivals, Burundi with 14,786 and Zambia with 7,981. In addition, inter-communal clashes on 16 December in the province of Mai- Ndombe in western DRC led to an influx of about 16,000 Congolese asylum seekers into the Republic of Congo; the largest influx in almost a decade. New arrivals joined refugees from previous waves of violence - among them many in protracted refugee situations, bringing the total number of Congolese refugees in Africa to 814,975, as at December 31, 2018.
The 2018 Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRRP) for the DRC situation was the first regional inter- agency effort to capture the needs of Congolese refugees in neighbouring countries. Throughout 2018, RRRP partners strengthened their advocacy efforts and promoted access to asylum, and the maintenance of the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum. While there were needs in nearly every sector, from the most basic items needed to ensure survival and dignity, to lifesaving protection and the prevention of sexual or gender-based violence, to livelihood opportunities, there continued to be significant concerns about the effects of underfunding; the RRRP was only 33 per cent funded, as at 31 December 2018.
Most of the countries of asylum in the region maintained open borders. However, the situation in Tanzania, was characterized by a more restrictive approach to access to territory for refugees and asylum seekers, by the closure of border entry points. There were also many cases of expulsion of refugees, as part of a collective deportation of immigrants from Angola.
Although some progress was made in the emergency response, support and assistance were limited for shelter, food security, nutrition, and other basic needs, or to meet minimum standards and improve access to basic services, including education and health. While new settlements were established, such as in Burundi, the existing camps and sites remained saturated and basic services in many cases were stretched to the limit, including in Rwanda and Tanzania. Further, funds for livelihoods’ activities, as well as employment opportunities were limited, prolonging refugees’ dependence on handouts support.
As regards coordination, response partners continued to engage in strong advocacy with government officials, UN humanitarian and development actors, NGOs, civil society and donors, for the implementation of the regional response strategy and to improve the protection environment for refugees and other persons of concern to UNHCR, including members of host communities. In cooperation with host governments, mechanisms for the registration of refugees were established, physical verification exercises were conducted, and civil registration was enhanced, such as in Uganda, the Republic of the Congo (ROC), and Rwanda. Response partners carried out joint assessment missions to review and adjust assistance for beneficiaries in response to expressed needs, including for food security in Angola, and to assess and explore livelihood opportunities in ROC.