Continuing insecurity threatens civilians in North Kivu
KALINGA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, February 7 (UNHCR) - Simmering insecurity continues to force Congolese civilians in North Kivu to flee their homes and seek security in places like Kalinga, one of many camps for the internally displaced in the volatile region.
There's not been all-out fighting in the province of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since 2009, but sporadic clashes continue between rival armed groups, while violence against civilians lies just under the surface, with women and girls at particular risk of abuse.
Kalinga is one of 14 camps in North Kivu's Masisi district and has reached full capacity with about 2,000 internally displaced Congolese. At the end of January, there were an estimated 176,000 internally displaced people in Masisi, including 49,000 in the camps.
Twenty-seven-year-old Maombi was among the latest to arrive in Kalinga. "I came here about a week ago with my wife and two children," he said, looking a bit lost while searching frantically for a shelter. "There's no more room in this camp, you can see for yourself. We have to stay in this makeshift shed [to accommodate new arrivals], waiting until a solution is found," he said bitterly.
He roundly blamed the various armed groups for the hardship and misery endured by his family and others in North Kivu. Despite a peace treaty in the DRC, continuing fighting in North Kivu has displaced some 500,000 people n recent years. "Over the past five years, I've never known what tomorrow will bring," he said, adding: "On the run all the time - is that a life?"
In recent months, clashes between the army and its allies and the ethnic Hutu rebel group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, have forced people to flee their homes on a daily basis.
This has led, since the second half of last year, to the establishment of new spontaneous settlements for the internally displaced. The situation has made life more difficult and dangerous for everybody, and the internally displaced need continuing assistance and protection.
"Even if we get help from the humanitarian agencies from time to time, it's not enough to feed the whole family," explained Justine, a 54-year-old widow with six children in Kalinga. "We have to find other sources to help us survive."
This normally means day labour in the fields, or collecting and selling firewood. But this can make them targets of armed men, especially women and girls sent out to collect wood in the forest. Forced labour, rape and looting are common.
Moreover, the camps for the internally displaced are vulnerable to attack. "These situations are frequent," said Justine. "They [armed groups] come, sometimes in your absence, and take everything."
On the run all the time – is that a life?
Maombi (27, displaced Congolese)
As a result of the increasing insecurity in Masisi, more and more people who had returned home during a quieter period are fleeing back to the camps. Furthermore, humanitarian work in the camps of this area has been limited.
"Insecurity hinders protection and the implementation of durable solutions for internally displaced people, especially those related to voluntary return," said Guy-Rufin Guernas, a senior UNHCR protection officer based in the North Kivu capital, Goma. He added that UNHCR had registered "7,000 protection incidents during 2010, with 59 per cent of them coming in the second semester."
UNHCR and its partners in a protection task force have complained to the regional authorities about "frequent incursions by armed men in some of the camps and the lack of [adequate] police to protect displaced populations." They have urged the central government to take the lead in finding a solution.
Meanwhile, the refugee agency and its partners continue to provide basic assistance in protection, health, education and sanitation even though the security situation hampers their ability to do too much.
By Simplice Kpandji in Kalinga, Democratic Republic of the Congo