Democratic Republic of the Congo: Facing the challenges of forced migration in host communities

Publié: 22 juillet 2013 18:00 CET

Mirabelle Enaka, IFRC, and Nelly Tangua, Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

As refugees pour over the border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), they don’t know what awaits them. Forced to flee the violence between the government and Seleka rebel forces in their homeland of Central African Republic (CAR), women, children and the elderly are now in search of a safe place to sleep, even if that means finding refuge under a few tree branches on the banks of a riverbed.

For thousands of CAR refugees, this is exactly the situation they now find themselves in. Settling on the sandbanks of the Ubangi River in north-western DRC, they are living in makeshift shelters with little access to clean water or sanitation facilities.

“These refugees are living in a very difficult and precarious situation, they are exposed to all forms of adversity, especially those living on the sandbanks who live in huts,” says Denis Duffaut, the regional representative for central Africa at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

“Host households are also overcrowded and lack all essential items. This situation has resulted in major challenges for the refugees in all key aspects of health and nutrition, water, hygiene, sanitation and shelter.”

The region is a common destination for refugees as the Ubangi River provides opportunities for fishing, which allows people in camps to supplement the support they receive from UNHCR. However, people are also using the river to bathe and wash, and as a latrine, as well as for drinking water, which poses serious health risks.

Humanitarian organizations have launched programmes to promote hygiene and sanitation in affected areas. To date, 18 chlorination stations have been installed along the river in Lembo, Kambo and Mobayi-Mbongo to help provide clean water from the river. These sustainable projects are managed by the refugees themselves who are trained in the safe use of chlorine and aquatabs.

Awareness campaigns on the importance of latrines have also been launched, but their availability varies. In areas where temporary shelters have been erected, latrines are available – including six built by volunteers with the Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But on the riverbanks, they are harder to find.

The IFRC has launched an emergency appeal of 1,122,910 Swiss francs (1.2 million US dollars) to support 15,000 refugees over six months. Ensuring people remain healthy is a key component of the Red Cross work. Despite the challenges of accessing this extremely remote area, volunteers with the local Red Cross have already helped construct 47 latrines and 30 showers, and distributed aquatabs to help purify water.

“We have succeeded in providing some level of comfort to refugees, who also took ownership of the sanitary facilities, using them before they were even inaugurated,” says Duffaut. “But there is still a lot of work to do. And for that, we need support from our partners, if we truly aim to help these refugee families remain healthy in the months ahead.”