Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Although a peaceful transition of power followed the December 2018 presidential elections in the DRC, at the end of 2020, the overall security situation remained complex, with continued inter-ethnic conflicts and armed attacks, particularly in the eastern provinces of the country. Since 2019 and throughout 2020, increased violence has resulted in the continued internal forced displacement of more than 5.2 million people, according to the 2021 DRC Humanitarian Response Plan. This includes approximately 2.9 million people displaced in 2020 in the eastern provinces (mainly in Ituri, North and South Kivu and Tanganyika). This is the largest IDP situation in Africa and one of the most acute and longstanding humanitarian crises in the world. The country also hosts about half a million refugees, fleeing unrest and persecution in neighbouring countries.
The situation in the DRC was aggravated in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, while the DRC also continues to fight against successive outbreaks of the Ebola Virus Disease and a measles outbreak. Additionally, in October 2020, OCHA estimated that 15.6 million people are severely food insecure, of which some 4.7 million suffer from severe malnutrition.
Although the rate of outflows from the DRC was lower in 2020 than in previous years, tens of thousands of people still fled across borders and have joined refugees from previous waves of violence and insecurity.
Refugees continued to flee mostly from eastern areas of North and South Kivu and Ituri Provinces to Uganda, as well as from Haut Katanga and Tanganyika Provinces to Zambia and other countries in Southern Africa. At the same time, some countries reported a net reduction in the Congolese refugee population attributed to spontaneous returns to the DRC, suggesting a general stability in some areas of origin.
Regional Protection and Solutions Context
The 2021 Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRRP) for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Situation details the inter-agency response for Congolese refugees in neighbouring countries of asylum: Angola, Burundi, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Most countries in the region have demonstrated commitment to maintaining open borders for asylum-seekers, and Congolese have benefitted from safe access to asylum and international protection. However in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, governments implemented precautionary measures including border closures, which affected access to asylum. This trend may continue into 2021 and RRRP partners are committed to engaging with governments to ensure those seeking asylum still have safe access to territory. Furthermore, Congolese refugees, particularly those living in camps and settlements, often face restrictions on their freedom of movement; right to work; housing, land and property rights; and access to education and justice. This situation was worsened in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns and movement restrictions, which negatively impacted economic activity and resulted in loss of income and increased vulnerability for Congolese refugees and their families.
At the same time, refugee settlements and camps in many host countries have reached or exceeded capacity, and the available basic services are stretched to their limit. RRRP partners continue discussions to expand existing or establish new camps and settlements. While RRRP partners promote self-reliance with the aim of reducing dependence on humanitarian assistance, the reality is that this process is slow and often underfunded. Therefore, the majority of Congolese refugees are expected to continue to rely on assistance and services provided by RRRP partners and government. In 2021, it is expected that in addition to protection services, there will be a need for RRRP partners to continue to deliver basic services and assistance programmes: supporting health and nutrition services; maintaining and expanding water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) systems; improving household shelter infrastructure; supporting access to education; and providing food assistance either in-kind or through cash and voucher modalities. At the same time, RRRP partners will continue to work with government at various levels to secure the inclusion of refugees where possible into national and local systems of basic services and explore ways to reinforce government-led services as a way of facilitating refugees’ access.
There continue to be reports of incidents of discrimination and xenophobia in some refugee-hosting countries, and refugees are especially vulnerable, specifically women, children, and other persons with specific needs and disabilities. This highlights the need to intensify efforts towards social cohesion and peaceful coexistence, by including local communities in decision-making and expanding service provision to support the most vulnerable in communities hosting refugees. In this evolving protection environment, it is important to strengthen partnerships and collaboration between governments, humanitarian, and development actors to provide adequate protection and ensure legal safeguards to create an environment conducive to local integration and social cohesion. Given that prospects for voluntary repatriation and resettlement remain limited, it is necessary to strengthen self-reliance and integration initiatives for refugees and the communities that host them. It also remains critical to promote and support livelihood opportunities and increase vocational and skills training. For those who do wish to return to their homes in the DRC, it is important to ensure that voluntary repatriation is carried out in safety and dignity, and that livelihood opportunities and land are made available to returnees, to ensure that the return is sustainable.