The United Nations refugee agency voiced concern today over the sudden closure of a camp for internally displaced people, or IDPs, located in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), exposing some 2,000 to potential lawlessness, banditry and sexual violence against women perpetrated by militia groups still operating in the area.
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on 2 December, local authorities shuttered the Kiwanja IDP camp in the DRC’s North Kivu Province, ordering 2,300 residents to leave their makeshift shelters and return to their homes. The shelters were then immediately destroyed.
“Many of the IDPs did not have home to go back to and were worried that they will not be safe in their villages,” William Spindler, a UNHCR spokesperson, told journalists at a press briefing in Geneva. “In addition, many IDPs had planted crops and would like to harvest those before leaving.”
While UNHCR acknowledged that a steady improvement of the security situation in the area had prompted many IDPs to voluntarily return to their homes, it called on the DRC Government and local authorities to ensure that all IDP relocations and returns were “voluntary and in compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law.”
For those IDPs unable or unwilling to return to their villages of origin, UNHCR recommended that additional measures be implemented to help them access livelihood opportunities in their locations of displacement.
Nonetheless, UNHCR’s Karin de Gruijl, who also spoke at the briefing, added that despite the improved security situation and the fact that most combatants associated with the 23 March Movement (M23) – the group which had previously terrorized the region – had been brought under control, many other militia groups continued to roam the countryside threatening civilians.
The UN agency estimates that, to date, a total of 890,000 people remain displaced throughout North Kivu Province, including 212,054 IDPs living at 60 sites.