Maniema, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), November 2022: Kamaria (fictional persona) walks by the fields of crops, followed by the livestock she is now in charge of. It’s been several months since she has found this job, it’s a relief for her, she can now earn money and support herself.
But for 7 years her life was unstable, dangerous and traumatizing, after she had to flee her home village where all her family was brutally massacred, she was raped and left for dead. She is part of the displaced people from North and South Kivu, where attacks and massacres rage on. The fate of displaced people is unknown, overlooked and often considered as a security problem. In August 2022, Dominique Hyde, director of international relations at the UNHCR, said of the dramatic situation in the DRC, that "At the current rate, 82% of internally displaced persons will not receive adequate shelter assistance,". Since the end of the civil war in 2003, the eastern part of the country has never seen a year without violence, the area is extremely unstable, and villages and indigenous populations are regularly attacked with unprecedented violence. It is commonplace to murder all the men and to rape women and girls. Terrified and traumatized, most of the survivors leave their homeland to head west, south, or even across the border into Uganda.
Since 2017, the Secretary of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has repeatedly stated that the situation in the DRC is critical and that more resources are urgently needed to assist the displaced population. In 2021, the Norwegian Council ranked the crisis in North Kivu (DRC) as one of the most neglected and disregarded humanitarian crises by the international community. In 2022, with more than half a million refugees and more than 5.6 million displaced persons, the DRC has the largest population of displaced persons on the African continent and one of the largest in the world. This situation has been going on for almost 20 years, and it does not seem to improve itself. As a result, the ones who have been living for more than 10 years away from their home and those who were born away from the homeland of their parents, are unlikely to return to their origin lands in the coming years. What has become of these people who have spent half of their lives or even their entire lives away from home? What have they built during their lives as strangers in their own country? Up until now the concerns of the international community were focused on the pacification of the tension’s zones and on the humanitarian help to the displaced people. However, very recently large-scale studies on the topic of community building and social cohesion led by the World Bank were released in June 2022. This is a brand-new approach that needs to be furthermore elaborated as it comprises high development expectations and long-term viable solutions to displaced populations.
The choice of staying was never really considered by the international community as they thought they could bring back peace in a short term, however that is not what history has shown. And during this time those populations wait. They wait in extreme living conditions, without knowing if they would be able to afford something to eat the next day, or if the camp will hold another day without being attacked or demolished. The uncertainty they live in is highly linked to the lack of vision for the future of these people. This is why, they choose to stay. What awaits Kamaria if she goes back to her homeland? Her parents were killed, her whole family is either dead or missing. She was raped and tortured during the attack of her village, that is destroyed today. Terrified of possible renewed violence and traumatized, why should she go back, where all this horror happened to her? Why should she go back when there is nothing left? The choice of staying is the choice of rebuilding, of a new future, a more peaceful tomorrow. She needs, like all others, security, protection. She needs stability, the fatigue and exhaustion of fleeing, sleeping in fear and never knowing when will her calavera end, drains the lasting energy and hope out of her. She needs land to cultivate and to create a sustainable future for her and her (future) family. She needs a future. It’s been 7 years that she has not heard of any of her ancient communities. 7 years of waiting. Is this the life we wish for refugees? Maybe she has met someone from the region she has fled to, maybe she wants to move on and go study in another region. The path of life of these people is so varied that only one solution : the choice of returning back, is unrealistic.
2014, in a part of the region of Katanga, the host communities and the displaced people have chosen another outcome to the tragic situation. With the help of the local powers and notably a large landowner, the displaced people were given a small land to cultivate and were invited to settle in the region. Creating thus an economical opportunity for these people to earn wealth and have access to basic material needs, but also socially they have now the opportunity by settling to rebuild their social life, to form a community sharing same experiences and values. Social cohesion is a core requirement to resilience particularly among populations that have known gruesome violence and disruption in their existence. If in this region host communities do attempt to provide help and assistance, it is not the same over the country and it is also not sufficient as the displaced populations face other economic and social challenges that can only be addressed through national governance. Returning to the fate of Kamaria who fled North Kivu back 7 years ago and has been now living in displaced populations camp. She has successfully found an arrangement with the neighbours who own a little farm, she can work there every day by keeping the livestock. However Kamaria has no administrative papers, no identity, she had therefore to accept the underpaid job, because without identity she cannot or only hardly reclaim labour rights. Additionally, Kamaria was never a farmer woman in her home village, she worked essentially in the weaving store making bags, carpets, clothes. Kamaria does have special capacities but as no one knows about her here, no one will give her a job that suits her professional skills. Identity loss makes displaced people, strangers in their own country and unqualified workers resulting in subclassification.
Displaced populations do need first-hand help and support to take back their lands. But they also need promesses for a better future, they do need a functioning society to rebuild themselves financially, professionally and mentally. Social cohesion is the core of what makes humans a community that lives and shares struggles, values and moments of happiness together. The challenges are enormous, however not insurmountable as shown by the experience of the village in Katanga. If until now the international community and international organizations were less concerned by this topic, it tends to change but not rapidly enough. Already in 2009 a so-called CCCM strategy was published underlining the concerns and the urgency of promoting development actions for social integration for internally displaced people. There is much to be done and improved to give these people hope for their future.