According to the BBC, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has suffered from political instability, insecurity and violence since its independence in 1960. As a result, the country hosts a considerable amount of Democratic Republic of the Congo refugees.
From 1997 to 2003, the country experienced a violent civil war. In addition, the Congolese army fought Rwandan forces and rebel groups near the Rwandan border. Multiple armed groups continue to fight among themselves and with the government for control of the resource-rich eastern provinces.
The extreme level of violence and human rights abuses in the eastern DRC have caused thousands to flee the area. Here are 10 facts about Democratic Republic of the Congo refugees:
- At the end of 2015, the UNHCR identified 495,724 DRC refugees. They live scattered among the Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia and Malawi.
- Congolese refugees are predominantly from the provinces of North and South Kivu, Orientale and Katanga in northeastern DRC. Fighting between government and rebel forces has been prevalent in that region for decades.
- The Cultural Orientation Resource Centre’s (COR) data on the DRC places 73 percent of Congolese refugees under the age of 25. Many of these individuals are single parents or the head of their households.
- Living conditions for most DRC refugees in host countries are harsh, unhealthy and unsafe. Additionally, these conditions are likely to deteriorate further as more refugees flee the DRC. For example, the COR reports that Rwandan refugee camps are extremely overcrowded and lack recreational and employment opportunities. This results in “high rates of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), prostitution, early pregnancy and school dropouts.”
- Many refugees suffer from a high degree of trauma from exposure to violence, torture and assault and require professional medical attention.
- Most of the refugees are from the historically persecuted Banyamulenge, Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups.
- Congolese refugees face very limited employment opportunities in many host countries. This makes integration unlikely and increasing their dependence on foreign aid. According to the European Resettlement Network, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia have imposed restrictions to prevent Congolese refugees from obtaining work.
- In Uganda, the country hosting the largest proportion of Congolese refugees, “the settlements resemble agricultural village life back in the DRC, with small plots available for farming.” Education and SGBV prevention and response services are also available. This will allow refugees to provide for themselves, even when there are scarce employment opportunities.
- Although repatriation remains unlikely, the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework in DRC and the Region (PSC) initiated a program for voluntary repatriation for Congolese refugees in 2014. If this program is successful it could mean the return of thousands of refugees to their homes.
- The European Resettlement Network claims “160,000 refugees have been identified for resettlement” in the U.S. and Europe. This massive resettlement plan will greatly reduce the operational strain on many overcrowded refugee camps.
In order to improve the living conditions of Democratic Republic of the Congo, refugees need additional aid in countries like Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. Host countries must continue to provide (and improve) education and employment opportunities.
Furthermore, as in Uganda’s refugee settlements, Democratic Republic of the Congo refugees need the means and the training that will allow them to provide for themselves in times of employment scarcity. Consequently, this will reduce refugees’ dependence on foreign aid. It will also increase their ability to integrate and improve their standards of living.
– Christina Egerstrom