‘We are all IDPs’: Vulnerability and livelihoods in Mugunga 3 camp, Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Gloria Nguya

Type: DRC, Working Paper

Organisation: International Institute of Social Studies (ISS, Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Country: DRC

Date: 28/03/2019

Full summary

Thousands of IDPs remain in many camps across North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This working paper explores the experiences of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the setting of Mugunga 3 camp in Goma through the livelihood framework. We challenge the assumption that IDP camps are places of passive vulnerability and demonstrate that IDPs are able to rebuild their lives by engaging in various trade activities, inside and outside of camps.


Inside of the camp, residents developed livelihood strategies around three activities: namely, manual labour, petty trade and employment/entrepreneurship. Camp residents labelled as vulnerable by humanitarian actors were also able to make a living through participation in IDP associations, as well as programmes and projects set up by humanitarian agencies. The livelihoods approach to development recognises the range of people’s coping strategies, differentiating between population groups to enable a fuller picture of IDPs breadth of experiences of the camps.


Combining life stories, in-depth interviews and field visits, this research initially interviewed 75 IDPs. It was important to select research participants who could be traced both in the camp and outside of the camp, as some had two residences. Interviews were conducted both inside the camp and also in the Goma neighbourhood (the Rusayo, Kibati and Kibumba groupings in Nyiragongo territory and Kitchanga grouping in Masisi territory), where many participants’ worked.


We suggest that policy-makers and other actors should consider the following factors when operating within IDP camps:


Vulnerability: A prevailing lack of representation of IDP camp populations has influenced assistance to IDPs, and has resulted in a homogenised understanding of IDP experiences in camps. Our research found two categories of vulnerability among the camp residents. The first group – the vulnerable – was based on humanitarian actors’ labelling, and the second group – less vulnerable – were split into camp and organisation workers and opportunity seekers. Those at the most at risk or who will be exposed to vulnerability after leaving the camp, tended to remain in the camps, whereas those who had wider networks or more resources moved out of the camps to rent houses, hold a job and rebuild their lives. More clearly defined recognition and identification of these different categories of vulnerable IDPs will help actors to meet the range of needs in the camps.


Diversity: it is important to take into account the diversity of IDP camp residents to better address questions such as needs or camp closure so that responses are not geared only towards one particular group. Donors and humanitarian actors are encouraged to further focus their assistance and protection of IDPs and investigate needs in the context of the diversity of the IDP population. In doing so, actors will respect the non-discrimination against IDPs enshrined in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.


Keeping families together: whether they are considered a first or a last resort, IDP camps may be useful in allowing large families to stay together. Mugunga 3 offered an important element of physical capital for many families. In the camp, large families found a place to live together which allowed them to better face the future without burdening their relatives. On the latter, although many respondents stressed the generosity of relatives and friends during displacement, it is also a difficult moment for hosts as well as for IDPs.


The meaning of the camps for residents: Residents in Mugunga 3 understood the camps as a means to gaining shelter, with opportunities, privacy, a physical address and a place to keep families together. The camps also granted time to residents to recover, to organise and to begin plans to rebuild lives. Respondents reveal that IDP camps are not only places of assistance but sites where IDPs can use the camp space to rebuild, reshape and take back control of their lives.