The Expected Congolese Refugees

By Maia Lamdany

Edited by Susie Backscheider

Right now most of the refugees arriving in Pittsburgh are originally from Bhutan, Burma, and Iraq. However, the refugee camps in Nepal are emptying: the 75,000th refugee left Nepal in December, and the seven original camps have been consolidated down to two. Since Bhutanese refugees currently comprise the majority of new arrivals in Pittsburgh, I think it’s never too soon to start looking ahead to the next group.

Word on the street is that the next large group of refugees coming to Pittsburgh will likely be the Congolese. I’m going to attempt to give a very brief explanation of what I have gleaned regarding their situation. This explanation will in no way prepare anyone for the actual challenges of resettling Congolese refugees. After all, every group, and individuals within each group, has its own unique challenges that can only be understood when they arise.

There are two Congos, so the first thing to know is that the Congolese refugees are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According to Refugees International, as of October 2012 there were more than 2.4 million internally displaced Congolese and an additional 460,000 had fled to neighboring countries.

To give a very brief synopsis, Rwanda invaded Zaire (now known as the DRC) in 1997 in an attempt to fight Hutu militias that had been involved in the Rwandan genocide. Then the Second Congo War began in 1998 and officially ended in 2003, however the eastern part of the country has remained in a state of conflict. The DRC also emerged as a battleground for other African countries; Rwanda and Uganda supported the rebels, while Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe supported the government. Rwanda and Uganda are still believed to actively support the rebels against the Hutu government.

The DRC also has one of the absolute highest rape rates in the world: studies indicate that more than 1100 women are raped every day in the DRC, and 12% of the women have been raped at least once in their lifetimes. If/when the Congolese refugees arrive in Pittsburgh in large numbers, these statistics will almost certainly be very important. At this point we can only venture to guess the best ways to help these refugees, since we can never fully anticipate the variables in any given situation.

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