UNHCR witnesses massive destruction and human suffering in Kasaï

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Cécile Pouilly to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Intenally displaced children at the entrance of an empty warehouse in Kasai Province.  © UNHCR/Andreas Kirchhof

The destruction and human suffering inflicted by the conflict in the Kasaï region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is on an enormous scale.

Last week, UNHCR staff returned from the territory of Kamonia at DRC’s border with Angola. It was UNHCR’s first mission to the location, which has been at the centre of the fighting. Our staff saw entire villages burnt down and civilians in a dire situation, as basic services have largely stopped and lawlessness prevails. 

The mission was possible thanks to the gradual improvement of humanitarian access in the Kasaï region. UNHCR is calling on the authorities to give humanitarian organizations full access to those in need of protection and assistance. We are also asking for improved safety and security in the area, which will allow the refugees and the internally displaced to eventually return home. 

In the area near the border town of Kamako, nine out of 10 villages were burnt down in attacks by armed groups, or fighting between them and government forces. Local armed groups have systematically destroyed or pillaged health posts, schools and other public buildings. Teachers and nurses have fled or have been killed. 

Hundreds of children have been separated from their parents or have witnessed their murders. These children are provisionally placed in foster families by local humanitarian organizations, but there is no system in place for psychosocial support to those who are traumatized. Elderly, disabled or sick persons are also at serious risk. 

The Kasaï crisis began over a year ago, spreading from local tensions to a conflict affecting nine out the 26 provinces of the DRC, either through fighting or internal displacement. Now, large parts of the heartland of the conflict region are under the control of government forces, but the return to peace remains fragile. In other areas, violence is still reported. 

Overall, it is estimated that some 1.4 million people have been displaced as a result of the violence in the previously peaceful Kasaï region.

Despite the critical situation, some Congolese who had sought refuge in Angola are trying to return to their homes in Kasaï. Since April 2017, some 33,000 refugees fleeing the conflict had been registered in the country’s Lunda Norte Province. But recently, a local UNHCR partner identified some Congolese who spontaneously returned from Angola, most of them in August. Many of the returnees have found their homes destroyed and are forced to live in internal displacement-like conditions.

UNHCR is deploying staff and opening three offices in the Kasaï region. However, we are lacking resources for the much-needed large-scale response. From the US$102.5 million required for the Congolese Situation and the Angola Response, so far only 17 per cent have been received.

Video Available: Recent B-roll footage of displaced persons fleeing from the Kasai region is available on our Refugees Media content platform here.

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