Congo gripped by fear as thousands flee ‘bone-chilling’ violence

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Congo gripped by fear as thousands flee ‘bone-chilling’ violence” was written by Karen McVeigh, for theguardian.com on Friday 2nd February 2018 15.30 Asia/Kolkata

The UN refugee agency has become the latest aid organisation to voice its alarm over rising violence in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that has forced thousands of people to flee their homes.

The Katanika displacement settlement, located just outside Kalemie town in Tanganyika, is home to about 9,500 families who have fled violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Katanika displacement settlement, located just outside Kalemie town in Tanganyika, is home to about 9,500 families who have fled violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photograph: Christian Jepsen/NRC

Amid a worsening humanitarian crisis, almost 7,000 people have crossed to neighbouring Burundi and 1,200 into Tanzania in the past week, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Refugees we have spoken to say they fled forced recruitment, direct violence and other abuses by armed groups. Others say they fled in anticipation of military operations and out of fear,” said spokesperson Babar Baloch.

People eat at the Katanika displacement settlement
Eight-year old Maope eats the day’s only meal together with her grandmother and neighbours at the Katanika displacement settlement. Photograph: Christian Jepsen/NRC
Dried maize hangs from the ceiling of a shelter at the Katanika displacement settlement
Dried maize hangs from the ceiling of a shelter at the Katanika displacement settlement. Photograph: Christian Jepsen/NRC
Girls in the hilltop village of Mpati
Jawaida, 12 (left), is seen with a friend in the hilltop village of Mpati, which includes a child-friendly space, facilitated by the Norwegian Refugee Council. Photograph: Christian Jepsen/NRC
Food is scarce in the Katanika settlement, with menial tasks such as chopping wood the only way to earn money
Food is scarce in the Katanika settlement, with menial tasks such as chopping wood the only way to earn money. Photograph: Christian Jepsen/NRC
  • Clockwise from top left: Maope, eight, eats the day’s only meal along with her grandmother and neighbours at the Katanika displacement settlement, located just outside Kalemie town in Tanganyika; dried maize hangs from the ceiling of a shelter; Jawaida, 12, is seen with a friend in the hilltop village of Mpati; Maope and company eat

Earlier this week, the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation described “alarming food insecurity” in the country, sparked by an extension of conflict into areas previously considered stable, such as the provinces of Kasai and Tanganyika.

Last month, Jean-Philippe Chauzy, DRC’s chief of mission for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said the humanitarian crisis in DRC was at “breaking point” amid a massive escalation of inter-ethnic conflict and widespread insecurity.

Displaced families shelter inside a church in Tanganyika province
Displaced families shelter inside a church in Tanganyika province. Photograph: Christian Jepsen/NRC

The number of people coping with extreme hunger has risen by 2 million over the past six months, reaching 7.7 million – about 10% of the population. More than 4 million children under the age of five are at risk of acute malnutrition, said the agencies.

“The humanitarian situation in the DRC is at breaking point, as is our capacity to respond to extremely limited funding,” said Chauzy. “The stories that Congolese who have been forced from their homes are telling are bone-chilling. They have been through so much already – torture, rape and murder of their loved ones. We cannot stand idly by as they suffer in silence.”

Soldiers from the UN stabilisation mission guard an airstrip in North Kivu province
Soldiers from the UN stabilisation mission guard an airstrip in North Kivu province. Photograph: Christian Jepsen/NRC
A board at Kalemie airport in Tanganyika province indicates the current threat level
A board at Kalemie airport in Tanganyika province indicates the current threat level. Photograph: Christian Jepsen/NRC

As fighting between militias in the south and east of the country has intensified, thousands of people have died and millions more have been forced from their homes. In December, 15 UN personnel were killed by militants in the eastern province of North Kivu, in what UN secretary general António Guterres called “the worst attack on UN peacekeepers in the organisation’s recent history”.

There has been significant unrest since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down at the end of his mandate in December, with scores of people killed in demonstrations against his continued rule in Kinshasa, the capital, and beyond.

Many people in Mpati have been displaced from other areas in North Kivu province
Many people in Mpati have been displaced from other areas in North Kivu province. Photograph: Christian Jepsen/NRC

The conflict in DRC has forced more than 1.3 million people to flee their homes, 800,000 of them children, leaving the country with the highest number of displaced people in Africa. Among a population of 79 million people, 4.5 million have been forced from their homes, a significant number of whom have been hosted by local families and communities, putting further strain on limited resources.

Two groups of children share a roofless classroom as teachers conduct separate lessons
Two groups of children share a roofless classroom as teachers conduct separate lessons. Photograph: Christian Jepsen/NRC
The floor is used as a writing pad by a child at Moma primary school in Nyunzu village, in eastern Congo’s Katanga province
The floor is used as a writing pad by a child at Moma primary school in Nyunzu village, in eastern Congo’s Katanga province. Photograph: Christian Jepsen/NRC
Children who have never been enrolled in school before attend a lesson at Nyange primary school in Mpati
Children who have never been enrolled in school before attend a lesson at Nyange primary school in Mpati, North Kivu. Photograph: Christian Jepsen/NRC
Fortunat Lunda, an education and protection officer, addresses a class of children
‘Many of these children are living under really bad conditions’ says Fortunat Lunda (orange T-shirt), an education and protection officer. Photograph: Christian Jepsen/NRC

The majority of newly displaced people say food is their biggest need, but in some areas many have yet to receive humanitarian assistance due to lack of funding.

Support for the IOM’s appeal for DRC is at its lowest level in years. Only $3.5m of the $75m requested as part of an appeal launched in December has been received.

Sango Feaza Sango, 20, with her two-year-old child Kambilo in the grounds of Glory primary school in Kalemie town
Sango Feaza Sango, 20, with her two-year-old child Kambilo in the grounds of Glory primary school in Kalemie town. ‘We’re living like birds, she says. ‘Life is difficult here. It’s difficult to get to sleep thinking about the war.’ Photograph: Christian Jepsen/NRC
  • Sango Feaza Sango, 20, with her two-year-old child Kambilo in the grounds of Glory primary school in Kalemie town. ‘We’re living like birds, she says. ‘Life is difficult here. It’s difficult to get to sleep thinking about the war’

Deadly floods and an outbreak of cholera, among various other health emergencies, have compounded the situation.

“Funding levels are at their lowest for many years, with DRC seeming to have ‘fallen off the map’ for many donors, at a time when we are facing vastly increased humanitarian need,” said Chauzy. “This is a worrying trend that we hope does not continue through 2018. Around the world, displaced people have similar needs, whether it is shelter, health or protection. We need to see similar levels of funding to other crises, ensuring the needs of displaced Congolese are met appropriately.”

Displaced children in Mwaka village, Tanganyika province
Displaced children in Mwaka village, Tanganyika province. Photograph: Christian Jepsen/NRC
Displaced children in Mwaka village, Tanganyika province
Displaced children in Mwaka village, Tanganyika province. Photograph: Christian Jepsen/NRC
  • Displaced children in Mwaka village, Tanganyika province

In December, the IOM said the rise in sexual violence against women and girls was similar to the widespread targeting of vulnerable women and girls in the 1994-2003 conflict. Recent research by Unicef found evidence of children in eastern DRC being sexually abused and recruited to fight.

People living in Katanika have been denied assistance by administrative blockades and lack of funding
People living in Katanika have been denied crucial assistance by administrative blockades and lack of funding. Photograph: Christian Jepsen/NRC

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Congo gripped by fear as thousands flee 'bone-chilling' violence | NORTH INDIA KALEIDOSCOPE

Rajesh Ahuja

I am a veteran journalist based in Chandigarh India.I joined the profession in June 1982 and worked as a Staff Reporter with the National Herald at Delhi till June 1986. I joined The Hindu at Delhi in 1986 as a Staff Reporter and was promoted as Special Correspondent in 1993 and transferred to Chandigarh. I left The Hindu in September 2012 and launched my own newspaper ventures including this news portal and a weekly newspaper NORTH INDIA KALEIDOSCOPE (currently temporarily suspended).