The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has expressed deep concern about the escalation of brutal attacks on civilians in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, DR Congo). Attacks by non-state armed groups have killed hundreds of civilians and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes in search of safety. In a press briefing today in Geneva, UNHCR also said that humanitarian actors and civilians should not be targeted in armed conflict and called on all warring parties to respect the civilian and humanitarian character of sites for displaced people.
“The latest deadly attack happened on 19 January at the Plaine Savo site for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ituri province. Armed men stormed the site with firearms and killed two adults and five children. Many shelters were looted and burned to the ground”, said UNHCR spokesperson Eujin Byun.
As many as 17,000 people fled to the greater security of the nearby town of Bule. They are now staying in schools, churches, and poorly covered outdoor markets without sufficient food and water. More than 200 civilians have been killed in the last six weeks in Ituri in a series of attacks by non-state armed groups, which also destroyed 2,000 houses and closed or demolished 80 schools.
Last week, mass graves containing the bodies of 49 civilians were discovered in two villages in Ituri province by peacekeepers of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). According to the UN Refugee agency, at least 52,000 people have fled violence in Ituri province which is already hosting 1.5 million IDPs.
Deadly and destructive attacks by armed groups also are occurring in neighboring North Kivu province, where a dramatic resurgence of clashes between the “Mouvement du 23 mars” (M23) armed group and the Armed Forces of the DR Congo (FARDC) began in March 2022. 521,000 people have fled for their lives from aerial bombardment and forced recruitment by non-state armed groups, UNHCR said.
On Sunday, suspected fighters of the armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) killed at least 23 people in an attack in the village of Makugwe, according to media reports. On January 15, a bombing of a church in Ituri province reportedly claimed the lives of at least 14 people. Both incidents occurred near the Ugandan border.
Some 120,000 people have moved to the relative safety of the outskirts of the provincial capital of Goma, carrying personal belongings on their heads and children on their backs. In total, 2.1 million people are displaced in the conflict-torn province of North Kivu.
Amidst this volatility, UNHCR and partner organizations continue to deliver life-saving assistance to displaced populations in DR Congo. In 2022, the UN Refugee agency received just 46 per cent of its requirements for the country. For 2023, UNHCR is asking for US$233 million to assist IDPs and refugees in the DRC and hopes this year’s appeal will emit a more generous response.
The violence and instability in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo also mean that humanitarian organizations are delivering life-saving shelter and protection services despite risks to the safety of aid workers. UNHCR emphasized that humanitarian actors and civilians should not be targeted in armed conflict and called on all warring parties to respect the civilian and humanitarian character of sites for displaced people.
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.
With 6.6 million forcibly displaced people, the DR Congo has more displacement than any other country in Africa. At least 5.6 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.
While the DR Congo continues to experience violence perpetrated by more than 130 armed groups active in the eastern regions, the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC has operated in the regions since 1999 and is the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is a United Nations agency mandated to assist and protect refugees, displaced persons and stateless people. The organization is known by its short name UN Refugee Agency. UNHCR was established by the United Nations General Assembly on December 14, 1950, to provide assistance to refugees from World War II. On January 1, 1951, the UNHCR began its work. Each year, the UN Refugee Agency helps millions of refugees and displaced persons worldwide. UNHCR is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, and has offices in 134 countries.
Full text: Escalating violence leaves hundreds dead and hundreds of thousands on the move in eastern DRC, UNHCR press release, January 24, 2023
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