Humanitarians issued an alert on Friday for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where heavy fighting continues to uproot hundreds of thousands of people in the east of the country.
Renewed violent clashes between non-state armed groups and government forces have sparked the latest emergency, with 300,000 people forced to flee their homes in North Kivu Province in February alone.
According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, another 20,000 fled at the start of the week and nearly 50,000 became displaced from the Kitchanga region in Masisi territory during the week of 17 February.
Civilians continue to pay the heavy and bloody price of conflict, including women and children who barely escaped the violence and are now sleeping out in the open, in spontaneous or organized sites, exhausted and traumatised,” said UNHCR spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh.
“UNHCR teams on the ground reported horrifying testimonies of human rights violations in affected areas, especially in Rutshuru and Masisi territories, including arbitrary killings, kidnappings, extortion and rapes,” the UNHCR spokesperson continued.
Conditions are dire for those arriving at spontaneous or organized sites, which the UN refugee agency said were now buckling under the strain.
The resurgence of violence in eastern DR Congo has displaced more than 800,000 people since March last year, including towards the provinces of South Kivu and Ituri.
More than 130 armed groups operate at the border between DR Congo and Rwanda, including the M23 militia, which has in the past targeted Government forces and the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MONUSCO.
An M23 ceasefire deal brokered last week and due to start on Tuesday, has failed to materialize.
The resurgence of violence in the region has displaced over 800,000 people since March last year, including towards the provinces of South Kivu and Ituri.
Where access permits, UNHCR teams are positioned to provide psychosocial counselling and community support for those traumatised by what they have witnessed or endured.
Humanitarians have continued to warn that despite “all efforts” to provide protection and assistance to those displaced close to Goma, Nord Kivu’s provincial capital, relief access remains complicated as major routes have frequently been rendered inaccessible because of ongoing conflict.
More than 5,500 people have also crossed the border into neighbouring Rwanda since January, and a further 5,300 into Uganda as insecurity and violence continue to ravage border regions.
“UNHCR strongly reiterates its call on all actors in eastern DRC to stop the violence which is taking an enormous toll on the civilian population,” the UN agency said in a statement.
The DRC is the largest internal displacement crisis in Africa, with 5.8 million people internally displaced, mainly in the east of the country. It also hosts over a million refugees from neighbouring countries.
It is also one of UNHCR’s most underfunded operations worldwide. For 2023, UNHCR is asking for $232.6 million to assist internally displaced people and refugees in the DRC. As of today, the DRC operation is only eight per cent funded.