The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the largest countries in Africa, and its internal displacement crisis is the largest in the world with the highest number of Congolese displaced. Various conflicts—ethnic, political, economic, and gender-based violence—drive refuge-seeking and displacement from all sides of the country. While old causes of refugee flows abate, new ones have emerged to aggravate the complexities and the search for durable situations.”The international community is failing refugees by failing to combat conflict and by creating weak structures and low capacities for supporting refugees. Neighboring African countries bear a disproportionate burden in absorbing refugees fleeing violence, but in general, African infrastructure is unable to support the numbers of internal displacement and refuge-seeking. Consequently, refugees often face squalid conditions in refugee resettlement camps.
"That’s where life becomes hard. From that May 9, 1997, we started living in the big refugee camp, which they normally call settlement, from 1997 up to 2018 when I came to Pittsburgh. For the life there, it was really really worse. Because many people lost their lives. Many people did not go ahead with the school. Because we had by that time, we had by that time 23,000 refugees in the same camp, in the same refugee camp, and you find two health centers serving 23,000. We have one pre-K school serving 23,000. We have one high school serving 23,000. It’s not easy and I think it was 42 kilometers squared. So now I used to walk around 18 miles to go to school. And it was a hard life. Some of the people could not go ahead and study. Some people gave up." - Celestin
Celestin spent twenty-two years in Uganda’s Kyangwali Settlement, waiting for a more permanent solution. His story is not unusual. Refugee lives are spent hoping and waiting. Limits imposed by western nations in the face of record high refugee numbers are leaving individuals and families in limbo. But conditions in refugee camps on the continent are often just as brutal as conflicts at home; refugees face discrimination and violence, are forbidden from leaving camps, denied education, and face health conditions and death daily.[i]Some refugees are faced with the choice of remaining in a dangerous settlement indefinitely or returning to unstable conditions in their home country, an impossible choice.
"I was in process around fifteen years. Yeah, fifteen years, it’s not easy. We were supposed to be here in 2018, but we came in 2014 and then I know some people who was in process with—they think like they’ve done everything but they still back home you see? It’s not easy, yeah. But it requires to be patient. Because you can think “now I’m done and I need to go” but you’re still there so--ce n’est pas facile. Parfois j’ai dis au autres je vais abandonner, je vais aller chercher la vie dans une autre pays—je vais faire comme ça—j’ai perdu la confiance, la patience, et puis. [It’s not easy. Sometimes I told others that I would abandon (my efforts at immigrating), that I’d seek a new life in a different country—that I would do that—I lost confidence, patience.]" - Benis
The UN only formally resettles refugees with urgent needs—on average, only about 1-2% of refugees from UN refugee camps will ever be resettled in the West.[ii]As of 2019, most Burundian and Congolese refugees in camps in other east African countries say they would rather face the dangers of refugee camps than return home.[iii]The majority of the millions of African refugees remain close to their own national borders.[iv]Support by the United States and other first-world countries is critical to global stability as well as the restoration of dignity to refugee lives.
"I was so so so happy. Because I was never believing in my life if I can get for this country. In my life, I was think maybe it can don't happen to me to get for this country. I was think, all my life, I'm going to stay in Burundi. But I was so surprise when they accept us to come here. And then we have coming here. I was get here. I was so happy! So happy. I was crying! I was crying. I say, 'God, you are so good.'" -Bahati
Aderanti Adepoju, “Migration Dynamics, Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa,” United Nations High Commission for Refugees, 20 Sept 2016.
[i]“Appalling Conditions for Burundi and Conoglese Refugees in Tanzania.” Dw.Com. https://www.dw.com/en/appalling-conditions-for-burundi-and-congolese-refugees-in-tanzania/a-44295204
[ii]UNHCR, “US Refugee Resettlement Facts.”
[iii]“Burundi Refugees Say fear returning Home,” East Africa Monitor, 13 Nov 2017.