Aid agencies say more than 60,000 people have fled their homes amid renewed fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) province of North Kivu in the past month. But the number of displaced people in the province is falling, and the government plans to close down several of their resettlement camps around the provincial capital Goma.
Like thousands of other people, Justin Masudi, 62, and his family have been living in a tent at the Mugunga 3 camp outside Goma since 2008.
“Me and my family, we don’t yet have a place to go back to,” he told VOA. “My fields in Walikale, where I came from, have been occupied. There are enemies there and if I go back there I shall be killed, so I’m staying here with the U.N. refugee agency [UNHCR].”
But, Masudi says, nearly 60 percent of people in the camp now want to go home, and others including himself would be willing to go elsewhere, to another town besides Goma, for example.
When it closed down camps in the past, the government offered residents only two options, either to return home, or integrate in the community around the camp.
'Reinstallation' or 'regrouping'
But in recent months a third option is increasingly talked about — going somewhere else that is not where the displaced person came from. This is known as reinstallation or regrouping, and it’s been endorsed by DRC President Joseph Kabila, who has said it should help to modernize living conditions for people in rural areas.
It’s an option that the U.N. refugee agency supports. The agency has been asking the 17,000 displaced people around Goma where they want to go when the camps close.
“Fifty percent,” said Patrice Ahouansou, a field officer for UNHCR, “want to be reinstalled elsewhere, including only 2 percent who want to be reinstalled in Goma, and 46 percent want to go home.”
Ahouansou showed VOA a map indicating where displaced people want to be resettled. A large majority preferred towns close to Goma.
VOA informally polled about a dozen people at Mugunga 3 camp. About half said they could go home, and most of the others said they could reinstall, if certain conditions were met.
"If I can just have a bit of help I could reinstall," says this man, Andre Hangi. And asked what type of assistance he was looking for, he says help to build a little house.
Justin Masudi says he has signed up to be reinstalled, but he’ll need transport, and some rations for a while, and he has no house where he’s going.
But he says if the refugee agency gives him a kit, including a tent, he can manage to build his own house. He warns however, that in the past, some displaced people who left the camps did not receive those kits.
For others reinstallation will be more difficult.
Government to decide
This man is saying he can reinstall if his father agrees. His father is in poor health, he says, and cannot walk up the hills in this mountainous area.
The authorities will have the last word on where people can go, says official, Chantal Kambibi.
"It’s for the government to decide where there is sufficient infrastructure, schools, health centers and so on for people to be reinstalled," she said.
Aid workers warn that proper planning and funding for reinstallation, or returns to the villages, still needs to be guaranteed, especially for the many elderly and vulnerable people currently living in camps.