Refugees Not Yet Safe to Return to DRC, says UNHCR Advisor

After the November 4 ceasefire between the M23 rebel movement and the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, things are still not safe for refugees to return to their homes.

M23 rebels and the government have failed to agree on terms of a peace deal due to a disagreement over the wording and interpretation of the ceasefire: the DRC government claims that the M23 movement was military defeated, while M23 argues that they agreed to a ceasefire to achieve peace.

There are 40,000 internally displaced persons within the DRC and 10,000 refugees in neighboring Uganda, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ updated numbers, released on November 6.

Regional advisor to UN refugee agency UNHCR, Christophe Beau, said that armed gangs in the DRC need to put down their weapons and re-enter society before those displaced can return home, reported United Press International (UPI). “Even when a zone has been made secure people always fear to return to it because they could still be threatened by people who were in the armed groups,” Beau told IRIN Monday.

It is only when rebels have been successfully integrated into Congolese society that previously displaced persons can live in the DRC safety, said Beau.

 

Read more:
DRC Refugees Face Uncertain Future, UPI
Obstacles to Return in Eastern DRC, IRIN News
Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre: Democratic Republic of the Congo

US Refugee Numbers Don’t Reflect DRC, Syrian Refugee Crises

Refugees from the Congo war have increased by more than 350,000 in the last few months, says a UN report released on September 30. The current conflict in Syria has led to 2.1 million refugees and an additional five million internally displaced.

Yet statistics from the US refugee processing center show a disconnect from the number of refugees worldwide. At the close of the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which ended last week on September 30, refugees from Iraq, Burma, Bhutan, Somalia and Cuba represented 81 percent of the 69,930 refugees that were resettled in the US. Refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo represented 27 percent of the total, although the numbers were significantly front-loaded in the fall of 2012 and dropped as the fiscal year progressed.

And refugees from Syria? This group represented 0.5 percent of the total, with only 36 total Syrian refugees coming into the United States.

Barring an extended government shutdown, the new fiscal year beginning October 1 will provide an opportunity for the United States to to increase the number of refugees it accepts from Syria and the DRC from its allotment of 70,000 refugees total.

In August, Foreign Policy reported that the United States agreed to allow 2,000 Syrian refugees into the country in the upcoming fiscal year. These refugees, however, will not be coming right away. The resettlement process will also include a screening for terrorist ties, a process that will make an already laborious process even more unwieldy.

This inflated number of Syrian refugees, in addition, holds the danger of taking coveted refugee spots away from other applicants, such as from applications among the estimated 440,000 Congolese refugees waiting resettlement in Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

As the situations escalate in both Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and refugee numbers rise, the repercussions of this redistribution of numbers for the US refugee program remain to be seen.

Issa’s Story Published by The Atavist

My story “The American Unsettlement System,” about the resettlement of Congolese refugee Issa and his twin brother, has been co-published by The Atavist and the Pearson Foundation on the former’s cloud-based Creatavist platform.

You can download the Storymakers iTunes app here (once you download, it, “The American Unsettlement System” is the second option under “Grand Prize Winners”). The story is best viewed on a tablet, but if you want to view the story on your computer the browser-based version is available here.

“The American Unsettlement System” incorporates audio, visual and text-based extras to enhance the original reporting. You can through the story linearly, swipe back and forth chapters to engage in the multimedia extras, or listen to the story as an audiobook.

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 1.48.50 PM
If you have any questions about the story, the Storymakers Award, or the Creatavist platform please contact me.

New Haven Works to Welcome Refugee Family from DRC

Check out this fantastic profile of a Congolese refugee family in Connecticut , written by Rachel Chinapen of the New Haven Register.

Chinapen’s story captures the struggles of both this family of ten as well as the agencies and organizations responsible for their resettlement. New Haven’s Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services (IRIS), who were tasked with resettling the family, had only five days to prepare for the family’s arrival.

Click the headline below to read the story in its entirety.
Screen Shot 2013-06-09 at 3.37.02 PM

UNHCR to Build New Refugee Camp in Burundi

In May, the UNHCR reported that it will open a new refugee camp in Burundi in order to accomodate the arrival of new refugees fleeing the DRC.

The camp, the fourth in Burundi, will serve up to 13,000 people.

UNHCR has built the camp for a cost of US $2.5 million, and includes a school, health center, and water supply system, reports an article in AfriqueJet.

The refugee I profiled in April, Issa, lived in the Nyarugusu refugee camp in western Burundi for nine years. While in the camp, which held a population of 60,000, Issa worked many jobs, including that of a fisherman, and his brother sold food and clothing. Because of his brother’s mental health issues, Issa was able to be resettled after less htan a decade at the camp; on average, refugees live in camps for 17 years before resettlement.

Guardian Maps Global Displacement Numbers

The Guardian’s Global Development team is at it again, illustrating the populations around the world with the highest levels of internal displacement.

With data provided by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council, the map shows that the countries with the three highest number of internally displaced people are Colombia, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, respectfully. This map estimates that 2.7 million are displaced in the DRC, up from 1.7 million at the end of 2010.

This number is higher than the 2.2 million estimated by UNHCR and the 2.4 million estimated by Refugees International.

This 2.7 million does not include 490,000 refugees that have fled the country. Over 69 million live in the country in total.

MDG : world map with numberof IDP by conflict

For more information and infographics illustrating the numbers of internally displaced persons around the world, check out the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement page.

The American Unsettlement System

After covering the Congolese immigrant and refugee community throughout New England for the larger part of four months, I went in search of a story that illuminated the struggles of immediate resettlement – perhaps a tale of culture shock, layered with stories about the kindness of state and federal officers and social workers in a deft and practiced resettlement system.

What I found, however, was much different. The story I will tell of Issa’s eight months in America illuminates impenetrable layers of protocol, low quality housing and a lack of cooperation between agencies.

Issa, whose sole companion in the world is a twin brother with severe mental issues, has been told that he cannot live with his brother in mental health housing. After a lifetime of clinging together, Issa and his brother face the prospect of life in America apart.

The beacon of light in this story, and in Issa’s life, is Viviane Kamba, the program director at the Congolese Development Center. Kamba has worked tirelessly on Issa’s behalf, logging hours on the phone with government officials, working with the resettlement agency to find better housing, driving Issa back and forth to the psychiatric ward in Beverly.

Kamba’s story is one of empathy and selflessness, providing Issa a much-needed touchstone of support.

While reporting Issa’s story, a story that is heartbreaking in the challenges Issa has faced, and heartwarming in his resilience in facing it, I have been reassured that Issa has the support he needs going forward in Kamba. In a system intended to support and sustain new Americans, one woman provides the understanding, comfort and hope that this refugee so desperately needs.

Report Suggests Giving Refugees a “One Stop Shop”

A new study about refugees resettling in Syracuse, New York, concludes that the city needs a “one stop shop” for the refugee population.

A report being released today by the Onondaga Citizens League suggests centralizing refugee services at a one-stop shop. The study examined Syracuse’s refugee population and resettlement efforts.

One of the recurring themes from both refugees and the people who serve them was how difficult it is to get refugees to the different appointments and classes, said Heidi Holtz, co-chair of the OCL board and director of research and projects for the Gifford Foundation.

Having a one-stop shop would also increase communication between the different agencies and service providers, she said.

I’ve seen this firsthand – many of the refugees and asylum seekers that I’ve spoken to have voiced their frustration at the red tape and seemingly impossible web of doctors, officials, and counselors that they must navigate as new arrivals.

Click through to hear the Syracuse.com article, which features the story of Congolese refugee Makene Yelusa:

(David Lassman | dlassman@syracuse.com)

Makene Yelusa from the Congo works on her English skills at the Northside CYO on N. Salina Street in Syracuse Wednesday. (David Lassman | dlassman@syracuse.com)

Work Ethic in Refugee Camps

I’ve been working to produce a video piece that illustrates the post-resettlement life of a young Congolese refugee, who arrived in Massachusetts last August. I found quite quickly, however, that it was impossible to tell his story without understanding what he’d been through – in the DRC and in his almost decade-long stay at a refugee camp in Tanzania.

While researching the piece, I’ve learned a lot about the life of Congolese refugees waiting for resettlement in camps. Like the fact that there are over 3 million Congolese refugees and internally displaced around the world. And the fact refugees live in camps an average of 17 years before resettlement. Or the fact that less than one percent of the world’s refugees are lucky enough to get resettled at all.

A recent article from AllAfrica.com caught my eye, about how refugees in the Mugunga 3 refugee camp in eastern DRC would rather work than be charity cases. I’ve seen that sentiment firsthand, with the subject of my video documentary. The subject of my video, a 26 year old man named Issa, expressed pride in the jobs he held in his camp. “I am strong at any work,” Issa told me. “I can work at anything. Usually men like me who have been through my experience, we are able to do anything, to use our hands to survive and do any job.

Click the headline below to read the full story from AllAfrica.com:
AllAfrica.com

Fifty Refugees to be Resettled in Nashua, New Hampshire

The New Hampshire Union Leader is reporting that 50 refugees will be resettled in Nashua in the next few weeks, an addition to the 200 refugees currently being resettled in Manchester.

Tensions between the two cities, as well as the resettlement agency, the International Institute of New Hampshire (IINH), are evident in the piece. Paul Feely’s article also gives some context around the numbers of refugees in the Granite State:

The Queen City has been the top resettlement location for refugees in New Hampshire. Between 2002 and 2009, Manchester received 1,807 of the state’s 2,966 new refugees, about 60 percent, while Nashua, the state’s second-largest city, received 70 refugees over the same time. Concord and Laconia each received 778 and 260, respectively.

No more information about the ancestry of the 50 refugees was given.