Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo — Amid continuing political uncertainty in the eastern Congo, UNHCR and its partners have been stepping up efforts to assist tens of thousands of displaced people.
UNHCR is working with other humanitarian aid organizations to support the return of internally displaced people (IDP) to their homes in North Kivu province's Rutshuru territory from locations in and around the provincial capital, Goma, which was captured by the rebel M23 movement on November 20.
Lists are being prepared of the most vulnerable people who will need transportation but the operation is being held up by security considerations. The refugee agency insists that any return must be voluntary and that the conditions in the places of return are safe. UNHCR has received reports that some IDPs who went to Rutshuru on their own, returned to Goma after finding their homes destroyed.
Moreover fighting has been reported in Kibumba on the road from Goma to Rutshuru. UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies were scheduled to make an assessment mission to the region on Thursday.
Shortage of petrol is also a concern that is affecting operations, while UNHCR and other agencies are currently under-staffed in Goma due to the continuing unstable security situation. UNHCR hopes to strengthen its team as soon as security permits.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) had as of Monday distributed initial three-day food packs to some 40,000 displaced civilians (more than 13,370 families) in camps and other locations in and around Goma. Altogether, some 70,000 will benefit. The distribution was agreed on after discussion between UNHCR and WFP, a vital partner worldwide.
The refugee agency hopes that a food distribution can be organized in Goma on Friday for more than 1,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, mostly from Burundi. UNHCR and WFP are also discussing the possibility of distributing food rations sufficient for a week to IDPs in the greater Goma area before they return home. More food will be distributed at a later stage in areas of return, security permitting.
Shelter is also a concern for UNHCR and one staff member visited Mugunga III camp, west of Goma, on Wednesday and said: "Some people are still sleeping outside." She said the situation was made worse because the rainy season has arrived in North Kivu. UNHCR and partners plan to construct large communal shelters as a quick response for those in need of shelter.
UNHCR staff said the situation remains relatively calm in Goma, where water and electricity supplies are partially back. Children have begun resuming classes and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is building hangars for IDPs who have been occupying classrooms since fleeing the latest fighting that erupted on November 15 between the government and M23. UNHCR and its inter-agency partners have providing medicine to health centres in Goma.