'Don't forget about Africa' UNHCR pleads, as it warns of refugee funding crisis in Democratic Republic of the Congo

The world's focus on Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine has left refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) without funding for basic services and accommodation, the United Nations’ refugee agency has warned.

In a desperate plea for funding, UNHCR said it has had to cut its provision in the region, which is home to half a million refugees from other countries and 5.6 million internally displaced people. The decision has left children unable to attend school and families forced to sleep in on floors of public buildings – or outside.

Fighting between the Congolese Army and non-state armed groups in North Kivu Province has displaced another 160,000 people since April. In addition, UNHCR and partners in Ituri Province have recorded more than 800 deaths from firearm attacks and machete raids on local communities, which have driven 20,700 people from their homes.

UNHCR said the DRC is among the most underfunded of its operations worldwide. Only 19 per cent of the $225m (£184m) budgeted at the start of the year has been secured, which it says has “significant impacts” on the lives of those forced to flee.

A barber, an internally displaced person who fled clashes between M23 rebels and Congolese soldiers, gives a haircut to another refugee in Kanyarushinya north of Goma in DRC.

At the present rate of funding, 82 per cent of the country’s internally displaced people will not receive adequate shelter support. They will be forced to sleep in churches, schools and stadiums, out in the open, or may resort to returning to their homes despite the risk of being targeted by armed groups.

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UNHCR said in the DRC, due to underfunding, only 16 per cent of South Sudanese refugee children are able to attend school. At current funding levels, UNHCR cannot support a single refugee child to attend secondary school this year.

The agency said without additional support, UNHCR will be forced to cut cash and livelihood kits for agriculture, fisheries and livestock. These gaps combined with serious droughts in both eastern and southern Africa will result in many displaced people going hungry.

Dominique Hyde, director of UNHCR’s Division for External Relations, said she had visited the region and witnessed first hand the strength in the face of horror demonstrated by forcibly displaced women, men and children, but also the impacts of underfunding.

She said: “While attention is focused on some of the world’s biggest crises in Syria, Afghanistan and, most recently, Ukraine – other emergencies, many of them in Africa, have failed to attract the same levels of attention, support and resources.

"Today, these underfunded crises face a toxic cocktail of conflict, climate shocks, and the socio-economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, alongside the devastating ripple effects of the war in the Ukraine. Food and fuel prices are dramatically increasing, stretching humanitarian resources ever thinner."

Ms Hyde added: “International solidarity toward people fleeing war in Ukraine has been overwhelming. We need a similar response – and more financial support – to all crises around the world.

"Every day, UNHCR and its partners are responding to these crises, but we cannot do it alone. We urgently appeal to the international community to act now and support those desperately in need.”

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