As of March 2015, over 81,000 registered refugees from the Central African Republic are living in the DRC’s Equateur province spread across the border districts of Nord-Ubangi and Sud-Ubangi. The massive migration began with the Seleka takeover of the Central African capital Bangui in March 2013, and has gradually grown during the waves of violence between the Seleka and the Anti-Balaka, a group of local self-defense militia, and former army officials. Since January 2015, an additional 30,000 have crossed the border, despite the general sense that security conditions have improved since the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA) was deployed in September 2014. The mass majority of refugees have settled at two informal settlements (Axe Dula and Axe Sidi) along the river,and within, and amongst the surrounding communities, of three refugee camps: Inke, Zongo and Boyabu.In fact, 35% of the displaced population is living with host families. The camps are managed by the Congolese Commission National de Refugiées and supported by UNHCR and other international agencies.
Although there have been few reports of the conflict spilling over into DRC, the displaced population is still living in difficult conditions and must navigate a system of foreign laws and compete for scarce resources in one DRC’s poorest provinces. If a dispute arises within the displaced community or between a Congolese national and a Central African, it is the goal of the “Accommodation of Justice in the DRC” project to better understand how it is resolved, and to which Justice Enhancing Mechanism is approached given the different types of disagreements and cases.
Despite the many ethnic and cultural similarities between the fleeing and recipient communities, it is still unknown what level of access the displaced have within the Congolese state and customary judicial institutions, and whether the Central Africans have developed new structures, or replicated any of their previous judicial customs in their new host-state. To find the answers to these questions and many others, rigorous fieldwork will be conducted in and around the displaced settlements in the districts of Nord and Sud-Ubangi. It will be a particular focus of these visits to compare how access to justice differs for those displaced populations who are living in camp environments, and those who have settled with host communities.
The primary research team is composed of Research Director Tatiana Carayannis of the Social Science Research Council, her two SSRC colleagues Program Coordinators Aaron Pangburn and Mignonne Fowlis, University of Kinshasa lecturer José Bazonzi, and University of Gbadolite lecturer José Ndala.
Tatiana Carayannis, Aaron Pangburn and Mignonne Fowlis from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) joined a team of their local researchers on a field visit to two of their western DRC research sites, Gemena and Gbadolite in the northwest province of Equateur for a series of interviews with government officials, civil society representatives, and customary leaders on issues of public authority. While near the border of the Central African Republic, the trip also served as an opportunity to visit the Inke refugee camp, home to approximately 13,000 Central African refugees, where the team initiated conversations on a new research project focusing on access to justice for displaced populations in the DRC.
SSRC manages the research in Western DRC, which includes Central African refugee camps and the communities surrounding them. The research trip was preceded by a WOTRO kickoff workshop in Kinshasa from 29-31 January 2015.