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Photo Story: Refugees in their own land

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Armed conflict has left an estimated 2 million people displaced in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Among the worst affected are Bambuti Pygmies who, since being forced to leave their homes, have suffered repeated displacement.

A joint mission by the Congolese Network of Pygmy Organizations and Minority Rights Group International in September 2009 found how, despite the presence of UN peacekeepers, they remain at grave risk.

All photographs © Mark Lattimer/MRG

The displaced persons’ camp at Kiwandja, North Kivu

War in the DRC reignited again in 2008 when the Congolese army clashed with rebels of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP). The displaced persons’ camp at Kiwandja, North Kivu, grew up spontaneously when the population fled for protection to the local base of the UN mission.

 

UN peacekeepers watch over the camp

UN peacekeepers now watch over the camp from behind coils of razor wire, their weapons trained on the people they are meant to protect.

 

A shower block. Conditions inside the camp are desperate.

A shower block. Conditions inside the camp are desperate. The first cases of cholera were diagnosed in September.

 

Young people have been stuck inside the camp for months

Young people have been stuck inside the camp for months with nothing to do. Although the inhabitants can leave, it is dangerous to go out, particularly for girls.

 

CNDP soldiers

CNDP soldiers, now integrated into the Congolese army following a peace accord last March, hang around outside the camp.

 

Bambuti women

Many of the Bambuti women, young and old, have been raped on leaving the camp.

 

Outside the church in the nearby town of Rutshuru, North Kivu

Outside the church in the nearby town of Rutshuru, North Kivu. The whole area is heavily militarised as part of the Kimia II operation, with the UN supporting the Congolese army in fresh fighting against Rwandan FDLR rebels.

 

A now dismantled displaced persons' camp

Another displaced persons' camp built on a lava field outside Goma, North Kivu, was dismantled in late September. The Bambuti in the camp had to leave on foot.

 

The injured wait to be transfered to another camp

Only the injured remain, waiting for transfer to another camp.

 

The Bambuti returned on foot to their former fields only to find that their land had been sold in their absence.

The Bambuti returned on foot to their former fields on the shore of Lake Kivu, only to find that their land had been sold in their absence.

 

beans are distributed to Bambuti communities displaced by the Kimia II operation

The Congolese Network of Pygmy Organizations distributes beans to Bambuti communities displaced by the Kimia II operation near Kalehe, South Kivu.

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