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Sanctuary means protection for displaced in Congo
July 05, 2013

Sanctuary means protection for displaced in Congo
Danilo Giannese spoke alongside Fr. Peter Balleis S.J., JRS International Director (far right) and Fr. Giovanni La Manna S.J., Centro Astalli Director. (Molly Mullen/Jesuit Refugee Service)
"Despite the danger, a climate of togetherness is laid for the future.... Hospitality and hope manifests itself in the camps in many ways: shelter, food, education. Informal solidarity networks often develop among displaced persons helping each other to get by, offering psychosocial and material support."

(Rome) July 5, 2013 — "Congo is where we get the coltan to make our mobile phones and laptops. It's where we get diamonds for wedding rings. It's where we get copper for our houses and cars. It's also a place where nearly half of the women have been raped during conflict… where the state is weak and rogue militias are strong," said Jesuit Refugee Service Great Lakes Africa Communications Officer Danilo Giannese. 

Mr. Giannese spoke at a press briefing to kick off Jesuit Refugee Service World Refugee Day events in Rome, including a two-part photo exhibition entitled, Sanctuary and Sustenance, hosted at the Chiesa del Gesù. Read a PDF of his full comments by clicking here.

Providing a sanctuary in Congo, means more than a physical home, but also education and long-term protection from violence, said Giannese. 

He shared insights from Burundi, Rwanda and eastern Congo, where violence still reigns in resource-rich North and South Kivu, eastern Congo—an area whose stability is essential for the entire region's long-term peace.

The international community benefits from Congolese resources, but not without a significant human cost. A long-term solution will only come when the international community yields economic and political interests fueling the conflict to instead stand for justice. 

"These people may be used to war but they are anything but resigned to a life of violence… They want to get their land back, rebuild their homes and once again be free to work and feed their families. But unless we respond to their hopes and fears, it is all too easy for the feelings of desolation and desperation to get the upper hand."

War in Congo has raged since 1995. Consequentially, human rights abuses occur daily with 2.6 million people internally displaced, more than 60 percent of the populations of North and South Kivu.

"The region has been devastated by dozens of ethnically-aligned rebel groups, seeking to control these resources, under the tutelage of national and neighboring powers. This is compounded by an ill-equipped and undisciplined national army and a weak and absent Congolese state government".

Notwithstanding the seemingly unending violence, the response of those without arms, that of the Congolese mothers, shop keepers, farmers and families has been to welcome, rebuild and carry on. 

Roughly 70 percent of people displaced in Congo find refuge not in camps but with friends and relatives. Also for those in the camps, a welcoming atmosphere remains, said Giannese. 

"Despite the danger, a climate of togetherness is laid for the future.... Hospitality and hope manifests itself in the camps in many ways: shelter, food, education. Informal solidarity networks often develop among displaced persons helping each other to get by, offering psychosocial and material support."

NGOs like JRS also provide humanitarian support, but they can only do so much. The quantity of food aid is still insufficient as insecurity inhibits its regular delivery, homes in the camps are poorly equipped with materials necessary to sustain lives and the threat of spontaneous incursion and displacement lurks.

"It is easy to despair, the situation is desperate. We don't have the right to say that nothing can be done. There is everything to be done. It is not heroism; it's our human duty. We need to nurture concrete hope through education, training, the defense of human rights, solidarity and peace. 

"As long as this endless and silent emergency continues to destroy the lives of innocent people, we must stand for an alternative."


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Press Contact Information
Mr Christian Fuchs
communicationsdirector@jesuit.org
202-629-5946