This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch – 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 alarmed at the increasing number of violent attacks on displaced civilians by armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
We are calling on the authorities to strengthen the presence of police, military forces with support of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) to improve the security situation and hold the perpetrators accountable.
DRC has one of the highest rates of internal displacement in the world. Over five million people have been uprooted by insecurity within the country’s borders, while nearly a million Congolese have sought safety in neighbouring countries as refugees.
UNHCR is receiving accounts of the way armed groups are unleashing terror on people as they flee, in displacement sites and hosting areas, and when they attempt to return, including reports of killings and mutilation, sexual violence and looting.
The displaced population is also subject to reprisal attacks for their perceived support for the army by returning armed groups, once the army completes operations to clear areas and is no longer present.
In the last eight weeks, UNHCR and its partners have recorded multiple attacks by armed groups on displacement sites and villages, mainly in Djugu Territory in Ituri, in Fizi and Mwenga Territories in South Kivu province and Masisi and Rutshuru Territories, North Kivu province. Violence has displaced more than one million people in the last six months in these areas.
In an attack on June 17 -18 in the Djugu Territory, two children, two men and a woman were brutally murdered – beheaded with machetes, and over 150 houses were set on fire by an armed group in two different villages hosting displaced people.
Again, just in a day on 23 June, almost 5,000 people were forced to flee their homes in North Kivu province, due to ongoing fighting between two armed groups in Mweso town. Attackers looted schools where people had fled to. Armed groups are presently occupying dozens of villages.
In South Kivu, a displacement site in Mikenge, Mwenga Territory, has been attacked twice by armed groups in May and June. The same site had been used by members of an armed group to hide, putting the civilian character of the site into jeopardy even though the residents had no way to stop the militia’s actions.
The current attacks add up to an already complex displacement situation in eastern DRC and pose huge risks for the people who fled their homes. The new displacement also brings more pressure on the areas hosting internally displaced people. Hosting sites lack basic needs such as food, water and healthcare services.
Women and girls are among those most-at-risk, with the number of sexual and gender-based assaults and abuses on the rise against women and girls in recent months. Over the last month, more than 390 cases of sexual violence were recorded in Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu provinces. Most assaults are attributed to armed groups – but many are also alleged to be carried out by the members of the Congolese security services.
The ongoing conflict is making it difficult for people to access help. Attacks on health centres and looting of post-exposure prophylaxis kits – antiretroviral medicines to treat people potentially exposed to HIV – in particular are hampering efforts to provide medical care to the survivors.
Despite the challenges to access some areas, UNHCR continues to work with local authorities and humanitarian actors in the three provinces to facilitate transport for survivors of sexual violence to the closest health centres to receive appropriate medical care within 72 hours.
UNHCR continues to provide assistance to the uprooted people – overwhelmingly women and children - by providing shelter, relief items and cash.
We are supporting members of the internally displaced community and their hosts who play a key role to respond to the protection needs of their communities. Their efforts do have an impact on quality of life, securing more freedoms from controlling militia groups, and in some cases making it possible to bring perpetrators of sexual violence to justice. Their continuous documentation is a main source of information for the humanitarian response.
The needs are huge and growing and UNHCR seeks further financial support for its underfunded operations. We have received just 21 per cent of the US$168 million required for our DRC operation.
For more information on this topic, please contact:
- In Kinshasa, DRC, Johannes Van Gemund, firstname.lastname@example.org, + 243 817 0009 484
- In Kinshasa, DRC, Fabien Faivre, email@example.com, + 243 825 443 419
- In Pretoria, Helene Caux, firstname.lastname@example.org, + 27 82 376 5190
- In Geneva, Charlie Yaxley, email@example.com, +41 795 808 702
- In Geneva, Babar Baloch, firstname.lastname@example.org, +41 79 513 9549