UNHCR alarm at recent attacks and rising displacement in eastern DRC
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.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is gravely concerned for the safety of tens of thousands of civilians in the north-eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where violence by armed groups has recently claimed more than 20 lives.
The attacks are on the rise in the Beni area of North Kivu Province and further north in Ituri Province, both situated near the border with Uganda.
It is estimated that more than a million people are displaced in North Kivu. An estimated half a million people have been forced from their homes this year alone.
UNHCR is calling on all parties involved in the conflict to protect and respect the lives of civilians displaced in a region that is already having to respond to a deadly outbreak of Ebola.
An attack by the main rebel groups, the Allied Democratic Forces – National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-Nalu) in the city of Beni in North Kivu last weekend killed more than 20 people, most of them civilians. While these groups have previously been active around Beni, it is the first time that fighting has reached the city itself. In another attack on Oicha, a town nearby Beni, an armed group, presumably also from ADF-Nalu, shot dead a 47-year-old man, abducted at least nine children, then looted and burned houses.
UNHCR staff report a sharp rise in abuses against civilians and in displacement in the Beni area over the past months, where alone in August some 13,000 people had to flee their homes. While rising tension and protests by the local population against the insecurity have slowed some humanitarian activities, UNHCR plans to extend its activities on behalf of the conflict-affected population.
The latest displacements in Beni further increase humanitarian misery in North Kivu – a province that has the highest number of internally displaced people in all DR Congo. The city is reported tense since Sunday with people in shock. A “Ville Morte” (“Dead City”) situation means that all shops are closed, nobody is at work, schools are closed and there has been no traffic inside the city since Monday. Many humanitarian workers have had to put activities on hold this week as a result.
UNHCR is preparing shelter assistance for the most vulnerable among the displaced in the region, and other measures to improve the protection of a rising number of displaced in urban areas.
Further north, in Djugu Territory, Ituri province, a series of new attacks are destabilizing the area which was on the way to stabilization after having been shaken by massive violence in the first half of the year, displacing an estimated 350,000 people. This return to peace is now being threatened, and UNHCR staff report 16,000 people fleeing their homes, many of them for the second time in one year.
Some of the displaced in Ituri have again joined their former host families but others lack proper shelter and are forced to live in the open. They are in urgent need of shelter materials, food and medicines.
In Uganda, on the other side of the Lake Albert, the number of people fleeing the DRC has remained largely stable so far. The average arrivals rate is 200 people per day, or 6,000 new refugees per month – with a slight increase over the past few days. However, refugee arrivals represent only a tiny fraction of the much larger daily movement of people between DRC and Uganda - including traders, family visits and others.
UNHCR is meanwhile contributing to efforts by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Ugandan government to screen people crossing the border into Uganda, and has established procedures to medically screen refugees. No cases are reported in the refugee population.
UNHCR has 3 transit centres, multiple collection points and two refugee settlements in Kyangwali and Kyaka to accommodate the new arrivals from the DRC. We are working with the authorities on contingency planning and are ready to receive more refugees.
At the refugee reception and the transit centres, all new arrivals pass through the medical and hygiene screening points. Health staff screen every new arrival using the infra-red thermometer and symptom checklist that includes the villages of origin and where they have passed.
Arrangements are in place to detect suspected and alert cases who are to be isolated in the established medical isolation tents and with the district surveillance team notified.
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