Change of guard means little to some of Bunia’s displaced

Security, or the lack of it, remains an issue of critical concern to thousands of internally displaced people in the troubled town of Bunia in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

For some of these war-displaced people, the change of guard on Monday from the French-led interim multinational force to the Ituri Brigade of the UN Mission in the country, known as MONUC, is of little consequence as these residents still fear to return home because of threats from militiamen. Others simply have no homes to return to, for militiamen have looted and then burnt them. Some of the occupants at the airport camp for the displaced, set up by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told IRIN that they did not expect any improvement in their quality of life with the arrival of the Ituri Brigade.

"We live in congested tents here, some of us do not even have anywhere to sleep. We just sit up all night," Byarwanga Taka, 30, told IRIN.

Before he fled the fighting near his home he owned a shop. With that gone and security not yet consolidated, the future looks bleak.

"I have a wife and three children yet I spend my days idling in the camp because I can't find work and I can't go back home," he said.

Taka, a member of the Hema community, also owned a shop that militiamen looted and burnt. His mother died during an attack in April because she was unable to run, but his father and seven siblings escaped to Uganda.

"When I tried to follow my father on the Gasenyi route to Uganda, I found the road blocked by attackers. I then decided to come to the camp," he said.

Many of the camp’s 11,240 occupants are from Bunia or its surroundings and are happy for the security it provides. Yet, they would like conditions at the facility to improve.

"I just would like to have some cooking utensils, some salt and something to sleep on," Josephina Machozi, 46, a Lendu mother of four, said.

She and her family have been sleeping on cartons since arriving at the camp six weeks ago. Life is equally hard for Marasto Akumu, a mother of seven from the Mululu community whose immediate needs are also to acquire cooking utensils and to continue work as a flour vendor in the market set up inside the camp.

Bernadette Ngambite, 59, cares for three of her daughter's children who were orphaned when their parents were killed during a past raid. But she struggles to provide for the children, even in the camp. Ngambite lamented that since arriving in the camp over a month ago she has not yet been registered to receive aid, despite having submitted her name to the camp's officials several times.

But leaving the camp and returning home immediately is not an option. Like Ngambite, many camp occupants simply fear to make the venture. They have opted to wait and see if the strengthened MONUC force that took control of Bunia on Monday would improve security significantly.

OCHA camp manager Seraphim Kazadi said that total security had not yet been restored to the homes of residents and those who went home were visited at night and threatened by militiamen. Even so, he said, the idea was not to have a permanent camp.

"We are working on plans that will take the IDPs back to their neighbourhoods," he said. "We are organising with MONUC to take groups to their neighbourhoods and to encourage them to begin cultivating their land."