Displaced children tell of suffering in DRC's Kasai
UNHCR estimates that 1.4 million people have been displaced as a result of conflict in the previously peaceful region.
KAMONIA, Democratic Republic of the Congo – 12-year-old Felix* sits in silence, staring around the compound where he is staying. He and four other children were taken in by foster parents after they escaped the conflict in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
“I lost my parents when our village was attacked by armed men,” he says. “We ran off in different directions.”
Felix crossed the DRC border with Angola, on a frantic search for his parents. “I looked for them in the places where all the refugees are but I did not find them,” he says. “Now, I have come back here. I don’t know if they are still alive.”
Marie*, 13, has also lost her parents. She fled to a nearby town with her four sisters and brothers after she saw her parents being killed.
“I am now the head of the family,” she says as she watches over her two-year-old brother, the youngest in the family.
Marie lives with her siblings in a house that was abandoned by the owner who fled to Angola. They have no one to watch over them, except for a few sympathetic neighbours who have collected food for them.
Felix and Marie are among hundreds of children who have been separated from their parents or have witnessed terrible killings. Children like them are placed in foster care by local humanitarian organizations but there is no system for psychosocial support.
The conflict in Kasai began more than a year ago when local tension escalated into a widespread conflict that has affected nine of the DRC’s 26 provinces. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, estimates that 1.4 million people have been displaced as a result of the violence in the previously peaceful region.
A mission by UNHCR staff last week to Kamoina, on the DRC’s border with Angola, showed the extent of the violence and destruction in the area at the centre of the conflict.
Entire villages have been burnt down and the provision of basic humanitarian services has ceased because access to areas where people are in need of assistance and protection has been cut off. Health facilities, schools and other public buildings have been destroyed.
Children like Felix and Marie are particularly at risk, as are the elderly, the disabled and the sick. UNHCR has appealed to authorities to allow aid agencies more access to people in need of assistance.
UNHCR is deploying staff and opening more offices in Kasai to boost humanitarian operations and has asked for greater security in the area. This will allow refugees and internally displaced people to return home eventually.
*Names have been changed for protection purposes.
Additional reporting by Markku Aikomus in Angola.