More than 2.5 million people have been displaced by the ongoing conflict in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with more than 760 000 displaced since the beginning of the year in North and South Kivu, according to a latest tally published by Oxfam International.
While most of the internally displaced people (IDPs) are believed to be housed in camps throughout the two provinces where they are being taken care of by various humanitarian organisations, eye-witnesses say some people are still hiding in the bushes, too afraid to come out, and are therefore not receiving any aid, including food and medical assistance.
No humanitarian assistance is also being provided to people still living under the areas controlled by various rebel groups. There are more than 50 armed rebel groups operating in the eastern DRC, according to UN.
Oxfam said it has been providing water and sanitation since July in three IDP sites to people who fled the fighting, as well as protection and delivering food programs in some camps. The biggest of these camps, Kanyaruchinya is now deserted as people have been forced to flee again, Oxfam said, adding that the other camps are receiving a massive influx of newly displaced people.
“In the Mugunga 1 camp, where several thousand people have arrived following an increase in inter-ethnic violence in the southern Masisi area at the start of September, our response focuses on providing clean water and sanitation in the camp, and supporting the most vulnerable residents by providing cash to help them get back on their feet,” Oxfam humanitarian coordinator Tariq Riebl said.
UK-based Oxfam said it was deeply concerned about the humanitarian impact of the recent escalation fighting, which it described as the worst in years. “People face killings, rape, abductions, torture, extortion, forced recruitment of children and economic exploitation at the hands of many different armed groups, including their own government and security forces,” Riebl said.
“This situation is of great concern as fighting for control continues without any real prospect of a long term solution. M23 and other armed groups have control over a number of areas in eastern DRC, which raises larger concerns of insecurity.”
Oxfam said millions of people are trapped in and around Goma and towns across the east with no way of escaping what could be a ruthless and bloody confrontation. “We can’t shout loudly enough. This violence has to end. It has caused decades of suffering and grinding poverty,” Riebl said.
He added: “We need real leadership to ensure that there is a long-lasting solution between the Congolese government and M23, brokered by a neutral mediator identified by the African Union, and backed by regional governments and the international community.”
Negotiations between the ‘weakened’ Congolese government and M23 rebels meant to find a solution to the conflict have stalled after Kinshasa outrightly rejected the rebel group’s ‘non-negotiable’ conditions calling for the immediate resignation of President Joseph Kabila. The Rwandan-backed rebels also want to be given sole management of the North Kivu Province. The government has also rejected the rebels’s call for a cease-fire, raising suspicions that Kinshasa was busy strenghtening its military capacities for a potential all-out attack on the rebels.
The talks are set to resume this week in the Ugandan capital city Kampala.
Tension remains high in the east, and analysts fear a massive offensive by M23 rebels on the cities of Goma and Bukavu if the two parties fail to find a common ground. Six million people have died in the DRC and thousands of young girls and women have been raped in the 16-year-old armed conflict, according to official statistics.
Photo by Michael Goldfarb/Doctors Without Borders. A woman returning to her village in North Kivu carries a child and load of firewood in the back.