Spiralling violence puts millions at risk in Ebola-hit eastern DRC
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is alarmed by the latest escalation of violence in already volatile and Ebola-hit North Kivu province in east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The cumulative effect of conflict and the outbreak of the deadly disease is threatening millions of Congolese.
The fighting involving a number of armed groups operating in the area has intensified in all six territories in North Kivu, a province bordering Rwanda and Uganda. Thousands of civilians have fled their burned out villages, bringing reports of brutal attacks. The already dire humanitarian situation has been further aggravated by an outbreak of Ebola virus in parts of the province. The disease has killed more than 60 people and infected dozens more in recent weeks.
Forced displacement in this part of the country remains massive. It is estimated that more than a million people are displaced in North Kivu. This is the highest concentration of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the DRC. An estimated half a million people have been forced from their homes this year alone.
UNHCR is particularly worried about the deteriorating situation in the Ebola-hit northern territory of Beni. The area is home to some 1.3 million people. Spiralling conflict has left the population living there virtually in a state of siege since October 2017. Reports of increased human rights violations and restrictions of humanitarian access are frequent. Estimates are that more than 100 armed groups are active in the province, continually terrorizing the population. Despite a large-scale military offensive of the Congolese Army against one of the main rebel groups, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) since January, there has been no let-up in the violence.
Despite security challenges, a UNHCR team accessed the area north of Beni earlier this month and conducted humanitarian assessments in Oicha and Eringeti districts. Residents told our staff about brutal attacks against the civilians carried out with machetes. Stories of massacres, extortion, forced displacement and other human rights violations are frequent.
Sexual and gender-based violence is rampant across the Beni territory. Many children are being recruited as child soldiers. The violence is particularly rampant in the so-called “triangle of death,” between the towns of Eringeti, Mbau and Kamango, on the Uganda-DRC border, as well as in the towns of Beni, Oicha and Mavivi.
UNHCR teams witnessed empty villages, countless torched and abandoned houses, as well as burnt cars. Those who fled found shelter mostly in Beni and Oicha, where both host and displaced communities fall prey to brutal and unpredictable attacks. Beni town hosts more than 32,000 displaced people, with the majority forced to live with host families or in schools or churches. More than two thirds have been forced to flee in the last three months.
UNHCR teams found the vulnerable displaced indigenous communities to be in some of the most critical situations. Forced out of their areas of origin in the forests, their living conditions in makeshift sites are abysmal. Families are sleeping rough, barely protected from the elements by their flimsy shelters. They have few or no means of survival as they can no longer hunt in the forests, now under the control of armed groups. There’s a genuine risk of these people losing their culture and way of life.
UNHCR is scaling up its capacity in North Kivu to respond to the growing humanitarian needs. We are arranging additional emergency shelters and other humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of the displaced in Beni. While UNHCR’s humanitarian response is continuing despite the outbreak of Ebola, the prevailing security situation and drastic funding shortfall severely hamper our efforts. UNHCR’s DRC 2018 appeal totalling USD 201 million is only 17 per cent funded.
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