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DRC: "WFP Will Help Displaced Restart Lives"

After 18 months in camps, many of the families displaced by conflict in Eastern Congo are keen to go home and restart their lives. WFP Executive Director Josette recently visited Katsiru in North Kivu and found that, while some are held back by fears over security, others are taking the risk. In either case, WFP is helping.

by Lisa Bryant

KATSIRU IDP CAMP --  Wimana Nira Bayoke (see photo below) cuddled a neighbour's child in her lap as she told her simple, sad story. Of the men in uniforms who fired bullets into her village late one night in 2008. Of her flight with her husband and three children to this camp for internally displaced people (IDPS)  -- a cluster of makeshift mud-brick huts with banana-leaf roofs. 

Today, the family scrapes by on a monthly food ration from the World Food Programme, supplemented by occasional labour as a field hand. 

"I'm afraid to go home. There's no security," said Bayoke, 40, whose husband stood barefoot nearby, clad in a torn suit. "So long as there is shelter here, I will stay." 

Wimana Nira Bayoke sitting with her children in the refugee campCondemn violence

The plight of Bayoke, and those of some 3,900 IDPs living in Katsiru and camps in nearby Nyanzale,  was the focus of an international appeal by WFP's Executive Director Josette Sheeran during a visit here on Friday (July 23). 

"Today in Nyanzale, we've heard story after story of tremendous suffering among the people here and violence that has been perpetrated on them -- and we condemn that violence and echo the call for increased stability," said Sheeran, during a joint press conference with the United Nations High Commissioner Antonio Guterrez. 

Life remains grim for many of these IDPs. Almost all are jobless and children cannot go to school. Years of clashes pitting government forces against various rebel groups has deeply scarred DRC's breathtakingly beautiful but unstable North Kivu province. The combattants have raped women and forced children to fight. 

"Is there still violence against women?" Sheeran asked a group of women in Nyanzale. The women nodded. 

"Are children still recruited?" she asked referring to the child soldiers. More nods. 

Stories of hope

But there are also stories of hope. WFP is also providing food assistance to some 600 IDP returnees in the Katsiru area. Indeed, overall 2010 food distributions in North Kivu target some 240,000 returnees, along with 150,000 IDPs. 

"What I heard today from the displaced people is they want to go home," Sheeran said. "They want to restart their lives. They want opportunities. As the security situation improves, we will work together with UNHCR to create opportunities and to support the efforts to allow them to resume normal life." 

At Katsiru, Uzamukumbda Butama waited patiently for a WFP food ration -- maize, beans, pulses, salt and oil. After 18 months of makeshift living, she returned only last week to her village of Karambi, some 15 km away. 

Why did she go home? Jiggling the toddler strapped to her back, Butama smiled.

 "I have no husband and many children to feed," she said. "I'm not sure if there's real security, but I'm taking the chance."