GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, March 20 (UNHCR) – Thousands of internally displaced people in the Masisi territory are in urgent need of basic humanitarian assistance following the latest fighting in the troubled region.
The clashes in late February and early March between the Congolese armed forces and other armed groups forced thousands of people – many of them from sites for the displaced – to flee to the UN peace-keepers' base in the town of Kitchanga, which also emptied out, or other areas. The security situation is now relatively stable and most people have returned to their homes, often finding them destroyed.
Staff from UNHCR and the government's National Commission for Refugees were able to visit the area last Thursday. They found people in desperate need of assistance, including food, shelter and medical care. UNHCR and the World Food Programme plan an aid distribution to meet immediate needs before the end of the month.
The assessment mission found that most of the 12,000 internally displaced people (IDP) living in the Kahe and Mungote IDP sites in Masisi had fled to safer areas to escape the fighting. Parts of the sites were looted and damaged by civilians and armed men. Shelter materials were targeted, with 63 tents burnt in Kahe and almost 800 tarpaulins stolen in Mungote. "The next time we are pushed to flee . . . we will take away all our tarpaulins," said one IDP leader.
IDP leaders in Kahe said the situation was critical and they could not wait long for aid to arrive. They said they had not received humanitarian assistance for two months. Women expressed concern about the personal risks they face. "Access to firewood has become a challenge as we are exposed to rape and SGBV (sexual and gender-based violence)," said one IDP.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, more than 550 houses were destroyed and 88 people killed in the town of Kitchanga during the fighting, causing 9,000 civilians to seek shelter at the UN base. About 2,000 families (6,000 people) had left the Kitchanga area and found shelter in IDP sites near the provincial capital, Goma, some 85 kilometres away. Many of the IDPs who had returned to torched homes in Kahe and Mungote had gone to Bwiza.
The unstable security situation in Masisi has long made it difficult for UNHCR and its partners to visit the IDP sites and help the needy. But the thousands of newly displaced in and around Kitchanga, including people in IDP sites, urgently need shelter materials and other aid. UNHCR seeks urgent access to these areas and calls on all sides to ensure the security of displaced civilians and those helping them.
Members of the UNHCR assessment team said the fighting had further traumatized members of ethnic groups affected by the violence and the situation in and around Kitchanga remains extremely tense, with fresh inter-ethnic violence a concern.
The refugee agency is also worried about the presence of armed men in IDP sites and has urged the government to improve security at the IDP sites in Masisi by deploying additional police and conducting more patrols to prevent armed groups from entering the sites and compromising their civilian character.
In Rutshuru territory, neighbouring Masisi, fighting between different factions of the rebel M23 movement has forced an estimated 12,000 to flee their homes and seek shelter in safer areas, according to our local partners. An inter-agency assessment mission is due to visit Rutshuru later this week to assess needs and the situation of the displaced.
According to official UN figures, there are more than 900,000 IDPs in North Kivu.