This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is deeply concerned about the urgent and large-scale needs of more than 72,000 people who have been displaced by fighting in recent days in North Kivu Province, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Since 19 May, intense fighting has shaken Rutshuru and Nyiragongo territories as militias claiming to be part of the M-23 armed group clash with government forces in a continuing struggle north of Goma, the provincial capital.
At least 170,000 civilians have been displaced, often repeatedly since an escalation of fighting in eastern DRC from November 2021. The latest wave of violence has driven tens of thousands of people from their homes in search of relative safety in different parts of the province, including Goma. Over the past week alone, some 7,000 have also reportedly crossed over to neighbouring Uganda – a country already hosting more than 1.5 million refugees.
Those on the move are exposed to constant violence. Fields and shops left abandoned are at high risk of being looted, threatening livelihoods. Women and girls are exposed to sexual violence, including rape, as well as physical threats and extortion by the warring parties. Numerous children have been separated from their families. The fighting comes just as communities previously displaced by insecurity in the region had tentatively begun to return home and re-establish their lives. This cycle of violence and displacement has become a repeated source of despair and danger.
Thousands of people displaced by the current clashes are facing difficulties in finding shelter and basic household items, as well as accessing food and clean water. Some count on the generosity of Congolese families, others have sought safety in schools, churches and sites built by the authorities for those forced to flee the Nyiragongo volcano eruption of May 2021.
Many such temporary housing sites lack the infrastructure to support the new arrivals, exposing them to cholera, malaria and other diseases. The use of education facilities also leaves children out of school, where they would otherwise be learning in a protected environment.
While measures were taken in April to provide much-needed assistance in the form of blankets, sleeping mats and soap to over 2,900 vulnerable people already displaced in Rutshuru and Kiwanja territories, many thousands more are now fleeing with few or no belongings. Needs heavily outweigh the available assistance, and humanitarian access to the region is severely hampered by the violence. At least 1.9 million people are displaced in North Kivu.
With 5.6 million IDPs, the DRC is home to the largest internal displacement situation in Africa.
UNHCR in Uganda, in partnership with other actors, is delivering emergency assistance to the 25,000 people who crossed the border since 28 March and are taking shelter in facilities set up by UNHCR.
UNHCR urgently needs US$5 million to reinforce its protection and humanitarian response in North Kivu. Our financial needs across the DRC remain pressing, with just 16 per cent of the required $225 million funded. In Uganda, UNHCR and partners recently appealed for US$47.8 million to respond to the critical needs of thousands of refugees who have arrived in that country this year, including around $35 million for new arrivals from the DRC.