The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has expressed great alarm today as violent clashes between non-state armed groups and government forces drive hundreds of thousands to flee their homes in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, DR Congo). In February alone, nearly 300,000 people fled across Rutshuru and Masisi territories in North Kivu Province, UNHCR said.
According to the UN agency, the resurgence of violence in the region has displaced over 800,000 people since March last year, including towards the provinces of South Kivu and Ituri. UNHCR teams and partner organizations are mapping the displacement and the needs of those forced to flee. More than 5,500 people have crossed the border into neighboring Rwanda since January this year, and a further 5,300 into Uganda as insecurity and violence continue to ravage the border regions.
Violence has particularly surged from the Kitchanga region in Masisi territory towards the strategically important city of Sake, with 49,000 people displaced in the week of 17 February. In the locality of Kibirizi in Rutshuru territory, a further 20,000 people fled during the week of 6 March.
“Civilians continue to pay the heavy and bloody price of conflict, including women and children who barely escaped the violence and are now sleeping out in the open air in spontaneous or organized sites, exhausted and traumatized”, said Matthew Saltmarsh, UNHCR spokesperson.
The needs of vulnerable displaced populations are multiplying as already dire conditions deteriorate and resources in overcrowded locations buckle under the strain of new arrivals.
UNHCR and other aid organizations are urgently scaling up humanitarian and protection assistance to tackle urgent needs stemming from overcrowding and inadequate shelter in spontaneous sites, as well as limited access to food and clean water.
The European Union has activated a Humanitarian Air Bridge (HAB) to deliver emergency items to cover the immediate needs of the most vulnerable. The first flight is scheduled to land on Friday in Goma.
While all efforts are made to provide protection and assistance to those displaced close to Goma, UNHCR expressed its deep concern about restricted humanitarian access to displaced populations in other parts of North Kivu Province as the major routes to those impacted areas have frequently been inaccessible in recent months as a result of the on-going conflict.
“UNHCR teams on the ground reported horrifying testimonies of human rights violations in affected areas, especially in Rutshuru and Masisi territories, including arbitrary killings, kidnappings, extortion and rapes”, Saltmarsh said.
A ceasefire between the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23) rebel group and the Congolese army that came into effect Tuesday has failed to materialize. The truce in the eastern part of the country was agreed and announced a week ago after talks between the armed group and Angolan President and African Union mediator João Lourenço.
Despite the ceasefire fighting continued in North Kivu province. Clashes were mainly reported in parts of Rutshuru and Masisi territories, and in the town of Sake. A previous truce in November that was agreed upon at a November 23 summit in Luanda, Angola did not hold.
In another development, more than 45 people were reportedly killed and dozens injured this week during several attacks attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels in the villages of Mukondi and Mausa, located some 20 kilometres south of Beni, in the North Kivu Province.
Eastern DRC is home to multiple armed groups, including the rebel M23 force and ADF rebels. A dramatic resurgence of clashes between the M23 and the Armed Forces of the DR Congo (FARDC) began in March 2022. The humanitarian situation in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has drastically deteriorated due to the escalation of the conflict in the North Kivu province.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is facing one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world, and the situation in the country is one of the most neglected displacement crises globally. For decades, the country has endured multiple, overlapping emergencies driven mainly by conflict and forced displacement. The UN estimates that 26.4 million require humanitarian assistance in the country this year.
With 7.1 million forcibly displaced people, the DR Congo has more displacement than any other country in Africa. Some 6.1 million people are internally displaced within the country, mainly in the eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri, while 1 million refugees and asylum seekers from DRC are hosted in neighboring countries.
Full text: UNHCR concerned by conflict’s toll on hundreds of thousands displaced in eastern DR Congo, UNHCR press release, published March 10, 2023