Civilians in DRC struggle for survival amid growing violence at home

People fleeing unrest in Democratic Republic of Congo at record high.

After five months of hiding in the bush, Marie returned home to find the family business in ruins.
© UNHCR/John Wessels

After five months of hiding in the bush from armed men and soldiers, Marie Kapinga is finally back at her family home in Matamba, a village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Kasai Central province.


Once a wealthy businesswoman, 45-year-old Marie now faces an uncertain future. The family’s small shop and their restaurant lie in ruins after violence erupted in her village. “They were destroyed by a rocket launcher,” Marie says. Their guesthouse still stands but was pillaged. “They even stole the beds.”

Today, Marie finds herself caring for 17 children and grandchildren, but does not know how to feed them. Her husband was killed when he returned to the village during the violence to find food while they hid in the forest.

Marie is one of over 600,000 displaced people who have returned to their homes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Kasai region this year, which has been affected by conflict since 2016. Like her, many of those who have returned do not even have the basics to reestablish their lives.

DRC: Displaced families face uncertain future (Thomas Nicolon, producer / Vania Turner, editor)

“When they arrive they find that their houses have been burned, the schools have been destroyed, the clinics are no longer functioning and their livelihoods are also not there,” says Steven Corliss, the Special Advisor on Internal Displacement at UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. “So the needs are truly massive.”

And despite the recent returns to Kasai, UNHCR has warned that displacement in DRC is still at a record high and humanitarian actors are overstretched.

"Since 2015 the number of people displaced internally has more than doubled and now stands at 3.9 million people – some 428,000 of these having been displaced in the past three months alone," UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday (Oct 24).

Over the past year, some 100,000 Congolese have fled to neighbouring countries as refugees. With widespread militia activities, and unrest and violence fueled by ethnic and political conflict affecting many areas, the risk of further displacement is high.

  • Marie is one of over 600,000 displaced people who have returned to their homes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Kasai region this year.
    Marie is one of over 600,000 displaced people who have returned to their homes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Kasai region this year. © UNHCR/John Wessels
  • A family flee violence in Kamonia, Kasai province.
    A family flee violence in Kamonia, Kasai province. © UNHCR/John Wessels
  • Kadima Kabenge, 28, fled the Kasai region and his job in a diamond mine.
    Kadima Kabenge, 28, fled the Kasai region and his job in a diamond mine. © UNHCR/John Wessels
  • Mathieu Buende, 71, fled Kasai province with six children. The walk caused his feet and legs to swell.
    Mathieu Buende, 71, fled Kasai province with six children. The walk caused his feet and legs to swell. © UNHCR/John Wessels
  • UNHCR's Special Advisor on Internal Displacement Steven Corliss talks with internally displaced people.
    UNHCR's Special Advisor on Internal Displacement Steven Corliss talks with internally displaced people. © UNHCR/John Wessels

Even in the Kasai region, where after one year of conflict calm has for the most part returned, new displacement has been reported from some areas, as in several eastern provinces such as North Kivu, South Kivu and Tanganyika.

UNHCR is currently gearing up its emergency response in several areas of the country, focusing on the coordination of protection activities and life-saving humanitarian assistance such as shelter. In light of the situation, UNHCR and partners recently upgraded the situation in the Kasai region, South Kivu province and Tanganyika province to Level 3 – the highest level of emergency.

Of some US$236.2 million required for the needs of refugees, internally displaced people (IDPs) and other people of concern in the DRC, only US$49.7 million has been received so far – a fifth of the amount required. UNHCR warns of dire consequences if mounting population needs are not met and funding gaps remain.