LONDON (AlertNet) - Some 800,000 people uprooted by fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have been deprived of humanitarian aid because they live in unofficial camps or with host families, advocacy group Refugees International (RI) said.
The U.S.-based group said only one in nine people displaced in North Kivu province live in official camps, where assistance is coordinated by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.
In its report, "DR Congo: Outdated approach, misplaced priorities", RI said the system classifying what constituted a camp was "broken", and called on UNHCR to end what it said was preferential treatment of displaced people in official camps.
"These camp designations are anachronistic and are causing aid to be distributed based on status rather than need. They need to be reassessed immediately," said RI advocate Caelin Briggs, who recently returned from a field trip to Congo.
RI said there are at least 10 unofficial sites in eastern Congo with more than 8,000 residents, compared with 12 official camps with less than 2,000 people.
"Yet the official camps receive far more assistance from the U.N. and other aid agencies," Briggs said in a statement.
There may be an improvement with the International Organization of Migration (IOM) taking on the role of coordinating aid to informal camps, but RI said it was not yet operational.
ASSIST THE NEEDIEST
Historically, displaced communities in eastern Congo have been split between official camps, meant to house those unlikely to return home in the near future, and so-called spontaneous settlements. These have received less sustained aid because they were viewed as smaller, more temporary sites.
However, RI said recent rounds of displacement, especially after M23 rebels began taking over parts of eastern Congo early last year, have made that distinction "meaningless".
RI also criticised UNHCR for devoting "disproportionate" resources to Congolese refugees in Rwanda and Uganda, despite recent violence producing only 68,000 new refugees compared with more than 500,000 new internally displaced people.
"UNHCR's dubious decision to prioritise refugees over IDPs has a real impact on vulnerable Congolese," said RI senior advocate Marcy Hersh in a statement.
"Aid budgets may be tight, but in this situation UNHCR should assist the neediest people, whether they have crossed a border or not. Major donors like the US, UK, and EU must pressure UN leadership to act accordingly."
The report also outlined the lack of security for women and girls in both types of camps. It said the situation was worse in informal camps but even in official camps, camp managers and government officials were not adhering to the minimum standards.