The United Nations refugee agency said today it is assisting over 100,000 civilians who have fled eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in recent months due to the ongoing military offensive against Hutu militants and banditry by armed groups.
Since last December, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has registered 15,508 new internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled the troubled eastern province of North Kivu.
UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told reporters that this latest wave of displacement brings to 116,000 the population of camps in and around Kitchanga. The agency is currently managing 47 IDP camps in the region, providing protection and assistance.
Fierce fighting has persisted in eastern DRC, particularly in North and South Kivu, where Hutu militants blamed for the Rwandan genocide of 1994 have fled. Last year the Congolese Government launched several offensives targeting the group known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), with logistical support from the UN peacekeeping mission in the country (MONUC).
UNHCR noted that other militias and armed groups have taken advantage of the situation, attacking civilians, looting property, committing rape and burning homes.
“We estimate that so far we have registered only a part of the recently displaced population and that many more could be sheltering with host families or hiding in the woods fearing to return to their homes,” said Mr. Mahecic. “These IDPs cannot be accessed due to insecurity and impassable roads.”
UNHCR estimates that there are some 2.1 million IDPs in eastern DRC where it says harassment, human rights abuses, rapes and intimidations against civilians are regularly reported by the local population.
Meanwhile, the UN and its aid partners have voiced concern about the dire humanitarian needs in Sud-Ubangi district in the country’s north-west Equateur province as a result of recent armed violence.
While the efforts of the national army and MONUC have helped to restore calm, there are at least 60,000 IDPs in the province, where clashes that erupted last year over fishing and farming rights between different ethnic groups in one area later turned into widespread violence.
“After weeks of insecurity, the area is now sufficiently safe for humanitarian operations and we are stepping up our response efforts,” said Abdou Dieng, acting Humanitarian Coordinator in DRC.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has already distributed 48 metric tons of food aid for one month to almost 5,740 people in Boyazala and Bozene, while food rations for a further 30-day period are expected to reach an additional 22,400 IDPs in Bokonzi as soon as the security situation permits.
Also, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is planning a number of measures, including a measles vaccination campaign for all children under five, the provision of food and safe drinking water, and the rehabilitation of schools and the distribution of educational materials.
The violence in Equateur province also resulted in 109,000 people fleeing to neighbouring Republic of Congo, and 18,000 to the Central African Republic (CAR).