Democratic Republic of the Congo: Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees’ Relations with Host Communities

Published on 26 December 2013

There are currently around 2,607,407 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and 152,912 Congolese refugees in Uganda (UNHCR figures, 30/9/13).

The majority of these IDPs/refugees are not living in official camps. Instead they have chosen to stay with host families and communities, and in turn these host communities have chosen to accept them.

This rapid literature review looks at the evidence around: i) the reasons Congolese IDPs/refugees choose to stay with host families and communities rather than camps and the reasons host families/communities choose to accept them; ii) the relationship between them; and iii) the impact of their presence on host communities over a sustained period.

There is a weak evidence base for this topic and it has not been examined in much detail, despite the large numbers of affected people involved. There are very few articles and reports which address it and most are written by NGOs working in the area, with less academic sources.

Recent literature on the relationship between host communities and both IDPs in eastern DRC, and refugees in the border regions of Uganda is scarce (expert comment). This might be due to the difficulties in carrying out research in these areas (expert comment). The majority of the relevant literature is by NGOs carrying out qualitative studies. However, the literature reviewed for this paper is relatively consistent in its findings.

The reasons IDPs/refugees choose to stay with host communities are a combination of factors relating to their physical, emotional and spiritual security, including:

  • They have a negative perception of the conditions in camps; in Uganda the distance and rigidity of the camp structure is a problem for many.
  • They prefer to stay with family and friends, no matter how distant, which leads to a preference for staying with their own ethnic group. This provides them with emotional security and comfort.
  • They prefer to stay close to their own fields so they can continue to farm and host families are more practical for this. 
  • They feel safer in host families. 
  • They are provided with humanitarian assistance they often don’t receive elsewhere.

The reasons host families/communities choose to accept IDPs/refugees is the result of a combination of factors relating to compassion, solidarity and benefits, including: 

  • They welcome in family and friends and have a broad sense of family. 
  • They understand what the IDPs/refugees have been through. 
  • They see a need and meet it. 
  • They are encouraged to help by their church. 
  • They receive benefits in the form of the labour of the displaced people and their contributions to the local economy.

The relationship between hosts and IDPs/refugees results from deep social ties and is generally positive. However it can become strained if resources are limited, or if it increases costs for hosts. The main problems are caused by a lack of food and space.

The long term impacts of IDPs/refugees on host communities include: increasing vulnerability, food insecurity, an exhaustion of resources and a weakening of the social support net, as well as negative coping strategies and an increase in insecurity. As a result of not wanting to be a burden on host families, especially in light of the long-term costs, IDPs/refugees have sometimes turned towards camps as a potential long term solution to displacement due the possibility of receiving humanitarian assistance there


Brigitte Rohwerder

Research Officer

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Rohwerder, B.


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