19 March 2009The United Nations refugee agency says it will not be able to provide thousands of Congolese refugees, many of them returning from Tanzania, with adequate housing unless its shelter programme receives additional funds. “It’s a very critical situation,” said Mohamed Boukry, Regional Representative for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “Unless we receive contributions, we will have no choice but to reduce this important assistance to thousands of Congolese refugees coming back home from Tanzania.” The agency says the pressure to provide new housing is growing as more and more people return to South Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). About 35,000 Congolese from Tanzania and Zambia are expected to return home this year with UNHCR’s help. “The absence of adequate housing is one of the biggest challenges refugees face upon their return to South Kivu. After years of absence, most find their homes destroyed and have nowhere to stay,” said Sebastien Apatita, head of UNHCR’s office in Baraka.Some 500 shelters were built with UNHCR funding last year in the province’s Uvira and Fizi districts to accommodate some 2,500 of the more than 14,500 returnees it helped back home. UNHCR hopes to provide the resources to build 1,500 more houses in Uvira and Fizi for the most vulnerable families, but notes that this will depend on sufficient resources.The agency does not construct the new homes but rather provides families with the materials and tools, including corrugated iron sheets for roofing, pre-made doors and windows, nails, axes and hammers, to build their own houses.UNHCR says the relative improvements in security in South Kivu, Equateur and Katanga provinces has led to the return of more than 180,000 Congolese refugees, mainly from Tanzania, the Republic of Congo and Zambia, since the agency’s repatriation operations started in 2005.