The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is one of the most complex and long-standing humanitarian crises in Africa. By the end of 2020, some 940,421 Congolese refugees and asylum seekers were hosted across the African continent. Ongoing conflicts in eastern DRC, as well as intercommunal violence, continue to cause forced displacement within the DRC and into neighbouring countries, along with tragic loss of human life and destruction of communities. Moving into 2021, we can expect that new Congolese refugees and asylum-seekers will require protection and basic assistance, while those in protracted situations – many for over a decade – will still require ongoing support.
2020 has presented the unique challenge and threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries of asylum implemented COVID-19 prevention measures that, while necessary to curb the spread of the virus, resulted in heightened protection risks and assistance needs, including for people with specific needs and people with disabilities. Partners have had to adapt and reformulate their programmes to ensure continuity of services, while scaling up activities that respond to COVID-19.
Given the evolving and growing needs, along with increasing strain on resources in countries of asylum, the Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRRP) for the DRC Situation remains the essential tool to rally financial support, coordinate humanitarian assistance and provide a strategic direction towards medium and long-term solutions for Congolese refugees in Angola, Burundi, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia. UNHCR values the partnership of those engaged in the 2021 DRC RRRP, and together we have developed interventions through close consultations with the affected populations and host governments to improve protection space for Congolese refugees and asylum-seekers, and ensure there is preparedness in the event of new influxes. Response to COVID-19 has also been mainstreamed into sectoral responses.
A key factor to mitigate dependence on humanitarian assistance is to strengthen self-reliance through education, skills training and supporting livelihood opportunities. Mainstreaming access for Congolese refugees and asylum-seekers to government services will also ensure much-needed resources are not devoted to creating parallel systems. Rather, services and programmes are strengthened for the benefit of everyone, adding to improved development and a shared social wellbeing. UNHCR and RRRP partners urge States to provide favourable conditions towards local integration. At the same time, UNHCR is also ready to support repatriation where returns are voluntary and informed, and can be conducted in a safe and dignified manner. Resettlement must also remain an option for the most vulnerable, and we continue to seek support of the international community to provide solutions for these special cases.
Throughout the RRRP process, we placed great importance on data and analysis to clearly articulate evidence-based needs and on aligning our responses with the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. This RRRP also follows pledges made during the first ever Global Refugee Forum (GRF) held in December 2019, providing an opportunity to bring on board nontraditional partners as well as regional actors to strengthen the commitment to the DRC situation and to spark new pledges.
In closing, I would like to thank all the donors who have supported our inter-agency response for Congolese refugees by contributing to past RRRPs. Through this 2021 RRRP, let us renew our commitment to continue to work together in the pursuit of comprehensive solutions for Congolese refugees.
Director, UNHCR Regional Bureau for Southern Africa