The United Nations refugee agency has expressed concern about the welfare of tens of thousands of internally displaced people (IDP) in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who have been driven out of host sites due to fresh fighting between the Congolese army and rebel forces.
Between late March and late last week, some 36,000 people left the Mpati, Kivuye, Nyange and Bweru sites in DRC’s North Kivu province, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“UNHCR is extremely worried about the welfare of these people, who are reported by our partners to be in a desperate situation after becoming displaced again,” said UNHCR Regional Representative Stefano Severe.
The refugee agency is also worried that more sites in the same area may be affected, as the army continues operations against the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and allied armed groups. “We urge the authorities and the rival parties to ensure that the basic human rights of displaced people are respected and that they are found safe alternative shelter,” Mr. Severe said.
Mpati, the biggest of the four sites with about 25,000 inhabitants, was emptied in late March and those forced to flee claimed that their belongings were taken, while a medical centre and equipment belonging to humanitarian organizations were looted.
The military may have targeted suspected armed elements hiding among the civilian population. Locals also left but were able to return later.
While many have found refuge in other UNHCR-supported IDP sites, others are camping in schools and on the grounds of churches. Some three quarters of them are women and children and many are sleeping in banana fields near the vacated sites without adequate shelter.
Assessment mission dispatched
A mission from UNHCR and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) left on Monday to assess the situation and needs. “Local partners have told us that the newly displaced lack food and access to health care. Many are extremely vulnerable and were living in extreme poverty,” said Mr. Severe.
Initial reports indicate that some people wished to return to the sites but were unable to do so.
The latest displacement came at a tense time in volatile and lawless North Kivu, where violence is a way of life. Ethnic tensions have been reported from many areas, and the forced population movement could exacerbate the situation.
There are some 1.5 million internally displaced people in the DRC, including more than 610,000 in North Kivu. Before the latest developments there were 55 IDP sites, including 27 UNHCR-managed sites hosting some 145,000 people.