UNHCR has reiterated a call for a ban on forced returns, including of asylum seekers who have had their claims rejected, to the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The call comes amid attacks on civilians and an escalation of armed conflict after a resumption of fighting.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR on November 18 reiterated a call for a ban on forced returns, including of asylum seekers who have had their claims rejected, to the eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a statement by the UN Agency says.
Elizabeth Tan, UNHCR's Director of International Protection, stressed this position during a press conference at Geneva's Palais des Nations.
Tan urged "States to grant refugees access to their territory and treat them in accordance with the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, and the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees," according to a press release posted online.
"UNHCR is concerned about a rise in attacks on civilians, including those residing in sites for displaced people in the east of the country," she said.
One of the biggest humanitarian crises in world
"In one such heinous attack on the Plaine Savo camp in Ituri Province in February 2022, a non-state armed group killed at least 62 people and injured more than 40 others. Since February, attacks like this one have resulted in over 1,000 deaths of people sheltering in displacement sites or attempting to return to their homes. Since the beginning of 2022, UNHCR has recorded more than 50,000 violations against the rights of the civilian population, including refugees and internally displaced people," the press release stated.
"Escalating armed conflict is further exacerbating the situation. Since 20 October, 188,000 people have been newly displaced by fighting between the M23 rebel group and the Congolese Army. Even before the latest spike in displacement, an estimated 5.6 million Congolese were internally displaced. Another 1 million have found refuge in 22 countries in Africa, making it one of the world's largest humanitarian crises," it added.
Most are IDPs
"The vast majority, 4.9 million, were internally displaced by conflict across North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri while nearly 700,000 have been displaced due to extreme weather," UNHCR continued.
"States have a legal and moral responsibility to allow those fleeing ongoing conflict to seek safety, be accorded asylum in line with the 1969 OAU Convention, and as applicable, under the 1951 Refugee Convention, and not to forcibly return refugees.UNHCR's advisory against forced returns to the DRC's provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri remains in effect until conditions improve enough to allow for safe and dignified returns," it concluded.