"They came down the river to escape the fighting", said Moïse, a clergyman who also works for the government agency in charge of reintegrating displaced people into society. "They" - two women - had recently arrived at a camp for the displaced in Kinkole, on the outskirts of Kinshasa.
Moïse runs the camp, which shelters slightly more than 1,100 people (around 580 families), including 641 women (most of whom were separated from their husbands during the hostilities) and 470 children. The camp, which opened in November 1999, initially took in 400 of the 1,800 displaced persons repatriated from Bangui (Central African Republic) by UNHCR. Mostly women and children, these people had fled the fighting in Equateur province, in the north-western Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Stretched out above the river Congo, the camp, which is not fenced in, is surrounded by dense vegetation and rice fields cultivated by local farmers. The displaced people have moved into abandoned buildings, of which it can at least be said that they have roofs (repaired by the ICRC) and sturdy walls. The shelter afforded is especially welcome at the end of the rainy season, with its sudden, heavy downpours. A dozen policemen patrol the grounds, adding to the feeling of security.
On the day of the visit, a truck marked with a red cross pulled into the camp and the children immediately gathered around: it was distribution time. There was no mad scramble for the rice, red beans, salt and oil, only laughter and wide-open eyes.
The ICRC has been providing these people with food aid and basic medical supplies from the very start. It turns the medicine over to a specialized Congolese NGO, which comes to the camp once a week. In between visits, two women who live in the camp and have some medical knowledge act as nurses.
Two ICRC delegates, one of them a doctor, had come to talk with Moïse about daily problems in the camp. Now it was time for the Congolese authorities to find a way to reintegrate these people into society so that they could lead active lives again. The two delegates explained this to Moïse, who listened attentively. Assistance is important, but the authorities must also be made aware of the need to shoulder their responsibilities if this camp is not to go the way of so many other camps in Africa and become a permanent place of exile.