Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains one of the most complex and long-standing humanitarian crises in Africa, with some 5.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 526,370 refugees and asylum-seekers (mainly from Burundi, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan), as of December 2021. It is estimated that since 2016 there has been an average of one million new IDPs per year, in a cycle of returns and new displacements. At the same time, there are more than one million Congolese refugees and asylum-seekers hosted across the African continent, with the majority living in the seven neighbouring countries that are part of the DRC Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRRP): Angola, Burundi, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, and Zambia. Most Congolese refugees have fled from the eastern areas of North and South Kivu and Ituri Provinces, and other areas in Kasai, Haut Katanga and Tanganyika Provinces.
Several parts of the country remain engulfed in violence and armed conflict, which are often accompanied by human rights violations and abuses, and breaches of international humanitarian law. Inter-communal conflicts amongst minority groups and armed groups typically affiliated with these communities, and military offensives by the Congolese national army, continue to trigger vast and repeated displacement of millions of people, especially in the east of the country.
Protection needs and root causes remain unresolved, limiting the overall potential for solutions in the most affected areas. Large influxes of population movements continue to overwhelm host communities, often already living in dire conditions, who share the little that they have. While host families have welcomed IDP families in their community, they also remain exposed to vulnerabilities and have limited access to services and livelihoods. A notable increase in human rights abuses was recorded for 2021 through UNHCR protection monitoring in the four eastern Provinces of the DRC: 8,233 incidents in Tanganyika Province, 15,055 in North Kivu Province, 17,129 in South Kivu Province and 27,443 in Ituri Province. These include physical attacks against civilians, killings, kidnappings for ransom, forced and child recruitment, sexual exploitation and abuse, looting, and gender-based violence (GBV), including rape. GBV remains a major concern in eastern DRC, with 2,661 cases reported through UNHCR’s protection monitoring in North and South Kivu, 1,115 in Ituri and 831 in Tanganyika in 2021. Across the country, GBV risks are compounded by a weak judicial system and widespread impunity, as well as gender inequality and social norms that are often discriminatory towards women; low participation of women in decision-making; a lack of livelihoods and education opportunities; and exposure of women to significant risks while collecting firewood and water, or when cultivating land. With significant socio-economic hardships, further exacerbated by the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), there has also been an increase in the sale and exchange of sex as a survival mechanism.
On top of this already precarious situation, in May 2021, the President of the Republic declared an état de siège (“state of siege”) for the Provinces of Ituri and North Kivu to address the deteriorating insecurity. This has been extended several times and is likely to generate significant population movements in 2022 due to military interventions.
Yet, there have also been encouraging signs as some areas in the Provinces of Haut-Katanga and Tanganyika have seen a progressive stabilisation and increased security, allowing for the gradual return of Congolese refugees from Zambia. More than 200 refugees voluntarily repatriated from Zambia’s Luapula Province to Pweto in Haut-Katanga in December 2021. Voluntary repatriation is expected to continue in 2022. However, the progressive withdrawal of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) from Tanganyika, expected to start in June 2022, risks increasing the overall insecurity of the area.
This situation in the DRC is further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ebola and measles outbreaks, severe food insecurity, and natural disasters, including the volcanic eruption of the Mount Nyiragongo volcano in the east of the country in May 2021. Looking forward, within a fragile socio-economic context, development challenges, and continuous instability characterized by serious threats of armed groups, the underlying drivers of displacement and humanitarian needs are expected to persist within the DRC, and in countries hosting Congolese refugees and asylum-seekers.