DRC: Thousands flee to escape conflict

The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is calling for increased support as the crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo deepens.

Hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people have fled their homes and settled in temporary camps in Kivu province, located in the northeast part of the country.

Since April, more than 220,000 people have been forced to flee to escape the conflict between government forces and rebel group, named March 23 or M23.

“The situation is terrible here,” UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos said during a visit to a camp for internally displaced people last month in Kibati, a few miles from the Rwandan border.

“People have come here spontaneously from everywhere, we as humanitarians are doing our best to respond, but with thousands of people displaced in a very short period of time, this is too much.”

In addition, as many as 43,000 refugees have settled in makeshift camps in Rwanda and Uganda.

“While it is clear that there are competing humanitarian demands around the world, we must not forget the people of the DRC,” Amos says.

“They are in the midst of one of the most complex humanitarian crises in the world and deserve our continued support.”

Since July 8, more than 1,655 households have moved to Kibati from Kibumba, Rutshuru, and Kiwanja-center. 

Many families fled the fighting with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Some residents of DRC’s North Kivu province felt safe enough to return home during lulls in violence in July, but sustained violence continues to hinder relief efforts, according to OCHA

More than 650,000 internally displaced people live in North Kivu, according to the agency’s July 25 report. 

“We fled with other boys, after seeing our friends being killed because of their resistance to being forcefully recruited by some rebels,” says Inovik, 17, from Rugari, who now lives in the Kibati camp.

“My childhood friend was killed before my own eyes while we were fleeing. I got scared and ran away so far, without any family,” he says.

“Life in this camp is very difficult, we were happy [at] home, we never suffered from famine.”

While some of the displaced residents live in schools and churches, many live outside and sleep in the rain while they wait for assistance.

Most lack water and adequate sanitation facilities and are at risk of contracting water-borne diseases such as cholera.

In partnership with the World Food Programme, World Vision has distributed high-energy biscuits and nutrition-rich energy bars to more than 30,000 internally displaced people since the fighting broke out.

These efforts help, but sustainable support — such as staple foods and cash vouchers — is needed, says Davies Bishi, World Vision senior commodities officer. 

With reporting from Aimee N’simire Manimani, a World Vision communications officer in Democratic Republic of the Congo.