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Congo’s homeless need protection

Families uprooted by violence in The Democratic Republic of Congo are still at risk of violence and need more protection and help, says a new report.

The Congo has been engulfed by fighting for longer than 10 years and is one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The war of 1998-2002 left nearly two million people homeless. Despite the signing of a formal peace agreement in December 2002, fighting, violence and rape are still everyday occurrences in the east of the central African country.

And Both the Democratic Republic of Congo and the United Nations peacekeeping mission there should be doing more to protect uprooted families there, said a report by Human Rights Watch.

"Despite the government's stabilization and reconstruction efforts in eastern Congo, the population remains at risk from continuing violence," said Gerry Simpson, who wrote the report. "The internally displaced are among the most vulnerable people in the region, and they desperately need greater protection and assistance."

Leaving their belongings, homes, jobs and land, many people first seek refuge in the forest near their villages, so they can be close to their homes. But they are not safe there either and face attacks by armed groups, rape, and robbery. Hunger forces others to move on.

The 88-page report, Always on the Run: The Vicious Cycle of Displacement in Eastern Congo is based on interviews with 146 people forced from their homes in eastern Congo, as well as government officials and aid workers.

In September, Congolese authorities pressured 60,000 people in UN run camps in and around Goma to return home. Police and bandits raided and looted the camps as they were closing, attacking families who were slow to pack up and leave. Some said they didn't even try to go home because they knew it wasn’t safe, while others tried but were forced away by armed groups. Neither the government nor UN agencies kept tabs on what happened to those 60,000 people, said the report.

Congolese authorities have a bad record in protecting people made homeless by fighting, with Congolese troops often abusing the very people they are supposed to protect, Human Rights Watch said. Protecting homeless people should be a top priority as the government tries to stabilise and rebuild, Human Rights Watch said.

Last month, at least five hundred people were raped in three day raids on 13 villages in eastern Congo’s North Kivu province. It happened a few miles from a UN peacekeeping base.

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