As of end of December 2018, there are over 95,700 South Sudanese refugees in the north east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), of which 53 per cent are women and girls, and 63 per cent are children below the age of 18. Most arrived during 2016 and 2017; there was no significant population increase in 2018 with some 5,895 new arrivals and no substantial departures. Despite a ceasefire and a Revitalized Peace Agreement signed in September 2018 in their home country, South Sudanese refugees in the DRC remain wary of voluntary repatriation.
South Sudanese refugees arriving to the DRC are from a country which remains the most affected in Africa by forced displacement. Their vulnerability is compounded by the fact that refugee hosting areas are among the most economically underserved and marginalized in the DRC. Refugees live alongside host communities with limited resources who nonetheless share what they have with refugees and with Congolese returnees from South Sudan and other vulnerable populations. The protracted experience of hosting regions contributes to chronic food insecurity and limited livelihood opportunities – as well as internal displacement in some cases. The lack of support for public infrastructure such as schools, health centres and police and justice systems, is also a significant challenge for residents and refugees alike.
RRP partners and the Government had – and continue to have – very limited access to refugees in the north of the Dungu Territory due to the volatile security situation and presence of armed groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). With only 41 per cent of South Sudanese refugees living in settlements, most South Sudanese refugees live scattered along border with no or limited access to humanitarian assistance. A verification mission led by UNHCR confirmed 11,528 South Sudanese refugees have been identified in the border region north of Dungu. The majority expressed a wish to relocate away from the border, particularly for security reasons.
However, congestion of the existing refugees hosting sites and access to shelter remain the most critical challenges. The maximum capacity of Meri site is 20,000, while over 34,000 South Sudanese individuals have settled and live there. Kaka refugee site (Dungu Territory, Haut-Uele Province) was opened in late 2017, but in 2018, after discussions with the authorities and various stakeholders an alternative location at a greater distance from Garamba National Park and its adjacent Protected Areas was identified. On 18 July 2018, the Governor of Haut-Uele Province issued a decree which designated Bele (Faradje Territory, in Haut-Uele Province) as a new site. The relocation exercise to the new site is expected to start during the first half of 2019. Refugees settled in Bele will be integrated within the same self-reliance-oriented programming as the other South Sudanese refugees in the areas.
However, it is to be noted that the continuous influx continues to pose major concerns in terms of access to adequate basic services, especially regarding health and nutrition, education and justice, and proper sanitation and hygiene facilities.
The border areas of Ituri and Haut-Uele Province and South Sudan remain uncontrolled due to the insufficient presence of the Congolese police and armed forces, creating opportunities for armed groups to enter, putting both refugee and the host community populations at great security risk. Humanitarian access rests on the ability and capacities of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO) in the DRC to prioritize protection of civilians in border areas hosting refugees. In 2018, UNHCR organized trainings to sensitize police and local authorities on its mandate, international protection, and specific security measures for refugees, but more work is needed.
Promoting self-reliance has become a strong component of the RRP response and will be reinforced in 2019. Through a community based approach, RRP partners support the integration of refugees into the host communities in all sectors, while promoting peaceful coexistence. For example, public schools have been constructed and renovated in Haut-Uele and Ituri provinces where refugees and Congolese children study together. RRP partners played a pivotal advocacy role with local authorities. For example, following advocacy, the village chief of Biringi agreed to allocate an area of 140 hectares neighboring Biringi site where refugees can build shelters.
In 2018, the funding received in DRC for the South Sudan RRRP reached only 18 per cent. The lack of funds continued to impact the provision of the necessary assistance to both new arrivals and existing caseload. Protection challenges for the South Sudanese people are immense, especially in terms of registration, child protection, and SGBV while living conditions remain below humanitarian standards with basic needs and standards being unmet. The assistance strategy for the South Sudanese refugees is to make sure the refugees and asylum seekers have access to international protection and life-saving assistance, while advancing on an alternatives to camp and CRRF-consistent model as resources and partnerships allow.