LONDON -- Thousands of civilians have fled renewed fighting in the north eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo where the UN World Food Programme (WFP), and UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), are working together to alleviate suffering among the local population.
Violent clashes between various militias and government troops over recent weeks have forced more than 64,000 people to flee their homes in North Kivu province alone. Some victims of the fighting have gathered in makeshift camps 100 km from Goma in the north east, while thousands of others are still living in the bush, hiding during the day and going to their fields at night.
In response, WFP has distributed more than 1,000 metric tons of food to 68,000 displaced people in North Kivu. UNHCR rapid monitoring teams have so far conducted 25 rapid assessments at hotspots in the crisis areas to identify human rights concerns and the needs of the displaced villagers. Reports by victims that armed groups committed serious human rights abuses are being raised by the UN Refugee Agency with the Congolese military and local authorities.
"The latest fighting underlines the need for a strong humanitarian presence in eastern Congo," said Charles Vincent, WFP Country Director in DRC. "Agencies like WFP and UNHCR have a vital role to play, assisting those caught up in the fighting as well as providing for others who are able to settle down when peace prevails."
Although violence continues in one part of eastern Congo, stability elsewhere has allowed over 96,000 refugees to return home, some of whom have been away for eight years. UNHCR is currently facilitating the voluntary return of Congolese refugees from five neighbouring countries including Tanzania and Burundi. So far this year, returns stand at 8,000 - lower than expected - as refugees are worried about difficult living conditions back home.
More than 1.1 million Congolese are displaced within their own country by conflict and persecution, reliant upon the UN and partner agencies for assistance and protection.
"Despite all the country's troubles, the DRC is at the heart of solutions for long-standing refugee problems throughout Africa's Great Lakes region," said Eusebe Hounsokou, Representative for UNHCR in Kinshasa. "Congolese repatriate from five neighbouring countries, while Sudanese, Angolan and Burundian refugees return home from the DRC."
UNHCR helps returnees build basic mud-brick houses and provides support to rehabilitate health centres, while WFP provides a three month ration of food aid. Communities where security is restored need more assistance in rebuilding basic public services such as primary healthcare and education.
The UNHCR and WFP are hosting a joint exhibition of photos from eastern Congo, which opens on April 25 in London. "Exposed and Hungry: Life in eastern Congo" is a collection of images portraying civilians caught up in the fighting and families returning home after many years living in exile.
Taken by freelance photographer, Susan Schulman, the photos will be on display at the Oxo Gallery until May 15 before being moved to the Royal Albert Hall until June 9. After London, the exhibition will go to the UN humanitarian headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
* The UN Refugee Agency requires GBP 31.2 million for its operations in the DRC over 2007, but despite an urgent appeal has so far only received GBP 12.6 million from donors.
* WFP needs US$ 25 million until the end of 2007 for its operations in DRC.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides protection and assistance to more than 21 million people worldwide -- refugees, people who have been displaced within their own country and stateless people.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: each year, we give food to an average of 90 million poor people to meet their nutritional needs, including 58 million hungry children, in at least 80 of the world's poorest countries. WFP -- We Feed People.
WFP Global School Feeding Campaign - For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school - a gift of hope for a brighter future.
For more information please contact:
Greg Barrow, WFP London
Tel: + 44 20 7240 9001; Mobile + 44 7968 008474
Stephanie Savariaud, WFP Nairobi
Tel: + 254 20 762 2336; Mobile + 254 733 528 912
Christiane Berthiaume, WFP Geneva
Tel 41 22 917 8564; Mobile 41 792 857 304
Peter Kessler, UNHCR London
+ 44 20 7759 8091; Mobile + 44 7775 566127
Jens Hesemann, UNHCR Kinshasa
Mobile: + 243 81 700 9484
Andrej Mahecic, UNHCR Geneva
Tel. 41 22 739 8657; Mobile 41 79 200 7617