UNHCR concerned for 50,000 displaced people in Congo after camps reportedly emptied

News Stories, 31 October 2008

© MONUC/Marie Frechon
Several of the tens of thousands who have fled fighting in eastern Congo head toward the North Kivu provincial capital, Goma, with scant possessions on their backs.

GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, October 31 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency said Friday it has received disturbing reports that several camps for internally displaced people near the North Kivu town of Rutshuru, about 90 kilometres north of Goma in eastern DRC, have been forcibly emptied, looted and burned.

"We're in the process of trying to verify these reports, which we received from some of our humanitarian partners," UNHCR Chief Spokesman Ron Redmond told journalists in Geneva. "We are extremely concerned about the fate of some 50,000 displaced people living in these camps, which include the UNHCR-administered sites of Dumez, Nyongera and Kasasa as well as several makeshift settlements."

The area around Rutshuru, where UNHCR has an office, has been the scene of fighting in recent weeks and is now under rebel control. Redmond said lack of security is hampering the agency's efforts to verify the reports.

The reports come as a tense ceasefire holds in the eastern city of Goma, where tens of thousands have fled as rebels advanced. Rebel leader Gen. Laurent Nkunda halted his forces 15 km from Goma, provincial capital of North Kivu, and declared the ceasefire late on Wednesday.

High Commissioner António Guterres again appealed to all sides in the conflict to respect humanitarian principles and to ensure the safety of civilians and those trying to help them.

"Hundreds of thousands of people who have already suffered far too much are in danger and in desperate need of help," Guterres said Friday. "As humanitarians, our job is to get life-saving assistance to them as quickly as possible. We are trying to do this in an extremely volatile environment characterized by reported widespread human rights abuses and general lawlessness. While we will do everything we can to help the innocent victims, the solution has to be political and we appeal to all sides to bring this conflict to an end."

UNHCR staff in Goma this morning reported the situation calm but tense on Friday morning. The UNHCR office is open and staff are working, but security restrictions on movement remain tight.

Many Congolese fleeing the fighting north of Goma have headed towards Uganda looking for safety. Since the latest round of fighting started in August more than 8,500 refugees crossed the border into Uganda some 2,500 of them over the past three days, according to reports from a UNHCR team at the border in Busanza, Uganda. Some 600 refugees arrived just on Friday morning. Many said they had walked for more than 20 hours from the Rugarama area in Congo, some 17 kms from the Uganda border.

Most of Congolese refugees in Uganda are dispersed in a dozen villages along the border with the DRC. They are accommodated by host families, friends or relatives.

"Their condition is presently good, but we fear that the situation could soon deteriorate if medical, water and sanitation facilities are unable to cope with rapidly increasing needs," Redmond said. "Logistics are difficult in this remote area. In addition, food supplies in this part of Uganda generally depend on local food imports from the neighbouring DRC."

UNHCR Uganda is working on setting up of a small transit centre in Kisoro town for Congolese refugees willing to move to Nakivale refugee settlement, some 350 kilometres inside Uganda. So far, more than 2,000 newly arrived refugees from the DRC have found shelter and assistance there.

"It's clear that we are going to require more funding to cope with the new needs," Redmond said. "We need to rapidly distribute plastic tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats, jerry cans, buckets, mosquito nets, kitchens sets and sanitary material and it appears we'll have to set up new sites for displaced people as well as existing camps in North Kivu."

There are 16 UNHCR-assisted sites in North Kivu sheltering some 100,000 people, plus more than 40 makeshift encampments housing tens of thousands of civilians. Altogether, there are more than one million internally displaced people in North Kivu.

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Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

Fighting rages on in various parts of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with seemingly no end in sight for hundreds of thousands of Congolese forced to flee violence and instability over the past two years. The ebb and flow of conflict has left many people constantly on the move, while many families have been separated. At least 1 million people are displaced in North Kivu, the hardest hit province. After years of conflict, more than 1,000 people still die every day - mostly of hunger and treatable diseases. In some areas, two out of three women have been raped. Abductions persist and children are forcefully recruited to fight. Outbreaks of cholera and other diseases have increased as the situation deteriorates and humanitarian agencies struggle to respond to the needs of the displaced.

When the displacement crisis worsened in North Kivu in 2007, the UN refugee agency sent emergency teams to the area and set up operations in several camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). Assistance efforts have also included registering displaced people and distributing non-food aid. UNHCR carries out protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs in North and South Kivu.

Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

The crisis in North Kivu continues

Insecurity in Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province continues, with more than 500,000 people internally displaced, many for the second or third time. Armed combat, persecution of civilians, killings, abductions, sexual abuse and forced recruitment of children still lead to displacement. Reports of rapes and murders number in the thousands. Some 176,000 of the displaced live in Masisi District, including 49,000 hosted in 19 camps. Conditions are harsh, with entire families living in one-room ramshackle huts with no water or services. UNHCR is very concerned about the security situation, living conditions and the future of the displaced. Even though some 36,000 people living in camps in North Kivu managed to return home in 2010, approximately 72,000 remain.

UNHCR is coordinating 31 camps for internally displaced people (IDP) in the whole of North Kivu, providing emergency assistance. UNHCR is facing enormous challenges in terms of access to the areas where the IDPs are hosted and continues to plead for humanitarian access to assist the people in need.

The crisis in North Kivu continues

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.

Posted on 6 November 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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