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Building better responses to displacement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by helping host families

Despite new peace agreements, continued conflict among and between armed militias and government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the last year has seen thousands of new internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the east of the country, many of whom have poured into camps seeking shelter and safety. This is a new development in DRC. Unlike Darfur and Uganda, IDPs in DRC have usually stayed with host families, returning intermittently to their homes, rather than fleeing to refugee-like camps. Around 70 per cent of DRC's IDPs are still living with host families, but the unprecedented upsurge in the number of those heading towards camps raises difficult questions. Have humanitarian organizations done enough to help IDPs in host families, and the host families themselves? If they have not, have they in fact encouraged the drive to the camps? Most importantly, how can IDPs with host families (as well as those in camps) be adequately assisted?

Until now, these questions have been difficult to answer because of uncertainty on whether the rising number of people in camps has been caused purely by the sharp increase in IDPs as a whole, or whether changes in the response by international agencies also played a role. This report concludes that the main drivers of the increasing population in camps has been the increasing "saturation" of communities with IDPs, and the longer periods for which people are displaced. Those are not, however, the total explanation. Humanitarian agencies have increasingly directed energy and resources towards camps, while assistance to IDPs in host families and host families themselves at the household level has mostly not been provided. Once established, camps create a multiplying effect as people follow one another in search of food and basic needs such as water and health services.

This study, based on recent interviews and field research in eastern DRC, provides new evidence to support a far higher priority to be given for assistance to hosted IDPs and their host families. This is not simply because these are vulnerable groups whose needs have been traditionally under-addressed. It is also because displaced people usually prefer living with host families rather than in camps, because they are seen as more "physically, emotionally and spiritually" secure. Providing assistance mainly through camps undermines traditional coping mechanisms that can provide safer and more effective aid, and effectively limits the choices available to displaced people. The basic principle is that people should be able to go where they feel safest and assistance should be provided in ways that support livelihoods and help to keep families together.

A publication by Oxfam Great Britain for Oxfam International.

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