DRC Congo violence sees surge in refugees fleeing eastwards

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

Refugees fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo rest at a reception centre in Uganda. More than 350 people were received and provided with warm food, shelter and safety.   © UNHCR/Hannah Maule-ffinch

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is alarmed by a recent surge in violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which is driving large numbers of Congolese to flee eastwards to neighbouring Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda.

Thousands of children, women and men have abandoned their homes, in the midst of intensified military operations against Mai Mai armed groups in South Kivu province. Since last week almost 7,000 people have crossed to neighbouring Burundi and an additional 1,200 to Tanzania. It is believed that many more are displaced inside South Kivu in difficult conditions without shelter or food.

Refugees we have spoken to say they fled forced recruitment, direct violence and other abuses by armed groups. Others say they fled in anticipation of military operations and out of fear. It is imperative that people fleeing the violence are allowed safe passage, and that humanitarian access to the internally displaced is facilitated.

Those refugees seeking to reach Burundi are mainly doing so by crossing Lake Tanganyika on small fishing boats. Reception conditions at Nyanza Lac and Rumonge where they arrive are sparse, with extremely limited shelter, sanitary facilities, drinking water and food. Together with the authorities and other partners, UNHCR is transferring the refugees to transit centres and camps – already overcrowded – in Burundi’s north and east.

Congolese citizens are not the only group affected. UNHCR is also worried about the situation for over 43,000 Burundian refugees just across the lake in South Kivu, mainly at Lusenda and Mulongwe. Although these locations have not been directly affected by the fighting, it is vital that all parties to the conflict respect the humanitarian character of the sites where refugees are and refrain from activities that could hinder the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

In Tanzania, the Congolese arriving there are also doing so via Lake Tanganyika. They cross directly from South Kivu to locations in and around the city of Kigoma. Many are exhausted and unwell. The influx is placing enormous pressure on existing shelter, water and sanitation facilities, and many people have no choice but to sleep in the open. UNHCR is mobilizing relief aid including food, water and medical support for the reception areas. We are also preparing to transfer the new arrivals to the Nyarugusu refugee camp in the country’s north-west.

In Uganda, Congolese arrivals have also been rising due to conflicts further north in the DRC: inter-communal violence in Ituri province, as well as armed group activities and military offensives in North Kivu. Since December, more than 15,000 people have entered Uganda either on foot or by crossing Lake Albert in fishing boats or canoes. January arrivals, at around 330 people per day, are four times what they were in December. UNHCR is supporting the efforts of the authorities to receive the new arrivals and transfer them to two settlements, Kyangwali – some 50 kilometres to the east of Lake Albert – and Kyaka II in the country’s southwest.

UNHCR is grateful to these neighbouring countries for hosting the DRC refugees, and in view of the life-saving needs we urge them to keep their borders open to those fleeing conflict. The situation in Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the world’s most complex crises, and it is deteriorating as local conflicts escalate. As 2018 began, some 5 million Congolese were displaced, about 674,879 of them in other African countries, and about 4.35 million internally. This places DRC among the world’s biggest displacement crises.

 

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