Hope for refugees, residents in Congo peace deal | Africa | DW | 25.02.2013
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Hope for refugees, residents in Congo peace deal

Displaced Congolese may have reason to hope for a brighter future now that African leaders and UN officials have announced a new framework agreement to tackle instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The framework agreement addresses, among other issues, the repatriation of Congolese refugees who fled to neighboring countries and other parts of Africa.

As many as 800,000 people have been displaced since the M23 rebel group took up arms against the DRC government in Kinshasa last May.

Conditions in the refugee camps are generally harsh. Living quarters are cramped and there is a lack of sanitation facilities and access to safe drinking water.                                                    

The Democratic Republic of Congo has become synonymous with suffering and has eluded countless attempts to build a lasting peace over the years.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the framework agreement as an "historic document," which was, however, only the beginning of a long process.  

Refugee camp in the hills of Rwanda

In the hills of southern Rwanda lies the Kigeme refugee camp which is now home to over 16,000 Congolese refugees who fled recent fighting between the M23 rebels and government troops.

A young refugee stands in his shelter, by the UN refugee agency. PHOTO/Flora BAGENAL(AFP)

Congolese refugees in Kigeme camp, southern Rwanda hope to return home soon

The camp consists of tarpaulin tents provided by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and situated a meter apart. Kigeme has seen a steady influx of displaced persons. 

While the refugees are only too pleased to have found a safe haven and a place they can temporarily call home, Rwandan residents living nearby are rather less enthusiastic.

They say the camp is increasingly becoming a nightmare because of the deteriorating living conditions that prevail there.

“We are always in constant wrangles with the refugees and their children,” said local resident  Agnes Mukamana, ”It's not good at all and we are not happy about it.”    

DW's Kigalia correspondent, Flora Kaitesi, visited Kigeme camp. She said residents were worried that there could be an outbreak of diseases like diarrhoea as a result of the waste and dirty water from the camp that is draining into their homesteads.

“How can we not be concerned when children who live in the camp destroy our crops and sometimes defecate in our gardens,” asked another resident, Maria Umuhoza.

With the number of refugees at the camp growing daily, the Rwandan government's initial response was to relocate the residents. However, this has been a slow process.

Many residents felt they had had enough and agreed to be relocated by authorities. But they are not happy with the compensation package they were offered which they say is insufficient.

Displaced people cross the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) into Rwanda, . REUTERS/James Akena

The conflict in eastern DRC forced thousands of Congolese to flee to neighboring countries

This has resulted in another bitter exchange between the residents and the government, with the officials saying the issue has been blown out proportion.

“Concerns that there would be diseases linked to the proximity of the camp are not true because the camp is managed by different agencies including government ones,” said Claude Rwahama, who is in charge of refugee affairs at Rwanda's ministry of disaster management and refugee affairs.

“We have hired a company to channel the rain water so that the water does not affect the local population,” he added.

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