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UNHCR urges protection of civilians and aid access amid surging violence in eastern DR Congo

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UNHCR urges protection of civilians and aid access amid surging violence in eastern DR Congo

15 February 2024
Mwamini Maheshe, 45, mother of 10 children, displaced from Sake arrives at Mugunga

People who fled fighting in the town of Sake arrive at Mugunga displacement site near Goma in eastern DR Congo.

GENEVA – In the wake of the heightened violence last week between government forces and non-state armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is deeply concerned by the dire consequences for civilians, including an estimated 135,000 internally displaced people fleeing the town of Sake towards the nearby provincial capital Goma.  

UNHCR and partners are deeply alarmed by reports of bombs falling on civilian locations, including in the Zaina site in Sake and the Lushagala site in Goma, where as many as 65,000 internally displaced people are sheltering, raising significant concerns for their safety.

The escalating use of heavy artillery and shelling in clashes around Goma poses grave threats to civilian and displaced populations, threatening more casualties and the destruction of buildings used as communal shelters. The presence of unexploded ordnance poses a particular threat to children. Since the first week of February, at least 15 civilians have been killed and 29 injured around Goma and Sake.  

"Civilians in eastern DRC are once again bearing the brunt of the escalating conflict," said Chansa Kapaya, UNHCR Regional Director for Southern Africa and the Regional Coordinator for the DRC refugee situation. "Relentless confrontations near Goma have targeted innocent men, women and children, forcing thousands to flee indiscriminate bombings and violence. The situation is tragic and unacceptable. We urgently call on all parties to protect civilians, respect humanitarian law and establish safe corridors for aid." 

The indiscriminate bombing is amplifying the strain on already limited resources to accommodate 800,000 internally displaced individuals in the region, and 2.5 million displaced across North Kivu Province. The violence continues to restrict access to isolated populations in Masisi territory and Rutshuru, compounding the challenges faced by humanitarian agencies in delivering essential assistance. With few viable options currently for safe passage from Goma, the growing displaced communities in the town face rapidly deteriorating conditions. 

UNHCR emphasizes the imperative to safeguard the lives and well-being of civilians and displaced individuals. UNHCR also calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities and peace negotiations to resolve the conflict and alleviate the suffering of innocent civilians caught in the violence.  

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