The UN refugee agency is helping more than 20,000 people who have fled fighting between government forces and renegade troops in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in recent days and found shelter in areas near Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
“We are working with our partners to provide assistance, including shelter and other non-food items,” a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Adrian Edwards, told the media in Geneva. “Our protection staff are in the field monitoring needs and identifying the most vulnerable internally displaced people (IDPs).”
UNHCR staff in Rwanda have said that as of Thursday evening, around 4,100 civilians had crossed the border at the Goma-Gisenyi crossing and been transferred to a transit centre, where they were receiving basic aid.
According to UNHCR field staff, people are still heading toward Goma and its environs from their homes in the affected Masisi and Walikale territories, located west and north-west of Goma, but the flow has eased slightly. The refugee agency has registered 10,300 people at a spontaneous site 25 kilometres from Goma, and 9,000 in Mugunga III, one of 31 UNHCR-run settlements for IDPs in North Kivu.
The agency’s field staff say the people are arriving at the two sites are exhausted and hungry, and many have children with them. Hundreds are sleeping in a school and church at the spontaneous site at Sake, while about 1,000 people are heading to the province of South Kivu.
The latest figures add to the already massive displacement numbers recorded in North Kivu and South Kivu so far this year. Conflict in the first quarter of the year is estimated to have displaced around 300,000 people, according to figures compiled by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). With the latest figures, more than two million people are now uprooted countrywide, including 1.4 million people in the two Kivus.
Most of the displaced are in South Kivu where, in the first three months of this year, 220,000
people fled continuing clashes between the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and the Mai Mai militia.
In North Kivu, fighting between government forces and soldiers loyal to former rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda intensified in April. An estimated 58,000 were newly displaced in the province between January and March, and thousands more moved in April.
UNHCR is particularly concerned for some 38,000 displaced people in Masisi and Walikale territories, as the agency has been unable to access these people because of the insecurity.