The United Nations refugee agency is concerned about tens of thousands of Congolese civilians who, having already been displaced due to recent clashes between Government forces and renegade troops in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), have had to flee anew as gun battles erupted today between the two groups.
The previously uprooted masses were housed at five UN-run camps for the displaced in the region around Goma, the main town in the DRC’s North Kivu province.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) does not believe the camps themselves were targeted. However, panic spread among the displaced following this morning’s skirmishes in the hills surrounding the camps, causing 30,000 of the camps’ residents to flee.
“The situation is dramatic and critical as tens of thousands of IDPs from the camps, mixed with local people who are also fleeing the fighting, jam roads leading to Goma under torrential rains,” the agency said in a press release.
UNHCR teams, along other UN agencies, are currently trying to assess the situation and the immediate needs, including shelter, food and protection.
Some 375,000 Congolese have been forced to leave their homes in North Kivu province, including more than 160,000 in the last two months alone, since fighting between Government forces, renegade troops and rebels began last December.
Today’s incident comes at a time when UN humanitarian agencies had stepped up their joint efforts to curb the spread of cholera in the camps in North Kivu. Nearly 600 cases of the potentially fatal diarrhoeal disease were reported during the past month.
UNHCR hopes that the distribution of soap, improved water supply and sanitation, as well as an intensive public awareness campaign on hygiene, will prevent any further spread.