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Hard homecoming for Kivu returnees

A student pokes his head through a hole in the tarpoline that acts as a wall of his classroom in an IDP camp in Minova, DRC
Aubrey Graham/IRIN

For the many thousands of people displaced by conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kivu regions who have returned to their villages, home has its many hardships.

“Return has not always been durable, as the reduction of food rations in camps [for displaced people - IDPs] and the arrival of the new planting season rather than any improvement in security have led people to go back,” the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) stated in a 24 February report

“Many people returned home to find their land occupied, while renewed clashes in return areas also forced people to flee again soon after their arrival home,” it said.

Across eastern DRC, “access to basic necessities … has deteriorated over the last year in the context of military operations and reprisals and continuing abuses against the population. The vast majority of IDPs and returnees have no access to health centres and schools, or to clean water, food, seeds, tools or building materials,” according to the report.

During 2009, according to IDMC, about a million people returned to their villages in North and South Kivu - about the same number who fled because of clashes, mainly between government forces and Rwandan Hutu rebels.

In North and South Kivu, there are 1.36 million IDPs, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In the North Kivu capital of Goma, some 77,000 people live in IDP camps, against about twice that number two years ago.

"Many have gone back to their land, and we are getting noises that more want to return," Masti Notz, head of the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in North Kivu told IRIN.

“Positive change is progressively taking place in Eastern DRC,” Alan Doss, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, wrote in the East African newspaper on 1 March.

Woman on the road to market. Linga, Ituri district

Woman on the road to market. Linga, Ituri district
Nicholai Lidow/IRIN
Woman on the road to market. Linga, Ituri district
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Un retour difficile pour ceux qui avaient fui le Kivu
Woman on the road to market. Linga, Ituri district

Photo: Nicholai Lidow/IRIN
A woman on the road to the market (file photo)

"While displacements and isolated attacks remain a problem in the Kivus, a number of people feel more secure today than they were a year ago," he added.

Status issues

Aid workers believe that in the wake of a tripartite agreement between Rwanda, DRC and UNHCR, many of the 50,000 DRC nationals living in Rwandan camps could soon return home.

Before the accord, thousands had already returned spontaneously. "In 2009 in Masisi, more than 6,000 people told us they had returned from Rwanda since 2000, under the auspices of various groups that controlled the area," Karl Steinacker, UNHCR coordinator for eastern DRC, said. "The challenge is to identify genuine civilians."

The status of the returnees, according to Refugees International, needs to be resolved given that some are Rwandans. There is also a need for stronger verification mechanisms to regulate future population movements.

In a 19 February statement, the group said locals had told its researchers of an area inside the Virunga National Park called "Coline Banyarwanda" ("the hill of those who come from Rwanda"), where they should not be.

Another large group of recently arrived Rwandans was living illegally in Bwiza, in a settlement inside the national park. In nearby Matanda, armed cattle herders had reportedly occupied land by force.

"It is important to note that these tensions are taking place in zones that are controlled by the former CNDP [The Congrès national pour la defense du peuple ] rebel group, who are clearly protecting these Rwandans," it added.

The CNDP, led by Bosco Ntaganda, theoretically ceased to be a rebel movement with the integration of its elements into the Congolese army in 2009, but security sources in Goma say it has retained some of its structures.

Land pressures

Competition for land, exacerbated by the destabilizing effects of enforced or spontaneous migration, is more commonly a source of conflict than generally supposed, according to analysts.

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI), for example, argues that reallocations of land during conflict or the profit from sale or use of land can provide a means of sustaining such conflict.

In the Kivus, notes the Goma-based Pole Institute, the economy is historically based on agriculture and long-distance trade, while the economic dimension of ongoing conflict is about rights of access to land and control of trade routes, not about minerals.

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