UNHCR warns of worsening displacement in Democratic Republic of the Congo
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards – 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 increasingly concerned by escalating displacement we are seeing in several key regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since 2015 the number of people displaced internally has more than doubled and now stands at 3.9 million people – some 428,000 of these having been displaced in the past three months alone. Over the past year, some 100,000 Congolese have fled to neighbouring countries as refugees. With widespread militia activities, and unrest and violence fueled by ethnic and political conflict affecting many areas, the risk of further displacement is high. The challenges of getting aid to people in need are growing fast.
In the eastern province of Tanganyika, where some 584,000 people are internally displaced, intercommunal conflict between the Twa and Luba groups spilled into neighboring Haut-Katanga province earlier this year. Clashes with the army continue and there is wide prevalence of armed militia. Scores of civilians have been forced to flee, and there have been reports of murders, looting and extortion, and torture or other inhumane treatment. With people finding it difficult to sustain their livelihoods, more are becoming dependent on aid.
Refugees crossing from DRC into neighbouring Zambia are hosted temporarily at the Kenani transit center, close to the border. Over 5,400 people are currently staying at the center, receiving assistance from the authorities, UNHCR and partners. As the rainy season has started, it is becoming urgently important to beef up public health, sanitation and water supplies to prevent diseases. Psychosocial support, as well as care for people with specific needs – some 27 per cent of the refugee population – is also urgently required.
North and South Kivu provinces
Further north in the east of DRC, violence involving mostly local armed groups is also plaguing North and South Kivu provinces. In North Kivu alone, over one million people are displaced. In South Kivu, where 545,000 people are internally displaced, the security situation further deteriorated in September as conflicts escalated between militias and the armed forces in the territories of Fizi and Uvira. Fear is widespread, including among the 30,000 Burundian refugees hosted at Lusenda camp in Fizi.
Congolese from North Kivu have mainly been fleeing to Uganda, and those from South Kivu to Tanzania - usually transiting through Burundi to escape attacks in their villages. Currently, Uganda hosts the largest number of DRC refugees, over 236,500 people, mostly in the south-west. In Tanzania, there were 76,890 DRC refugees as of the end of September.
The Kasai region
Meanwhile, in the Kasai region in central-southern DRC, displaced people and refugees who fled the violence that started over a year ago have begun to return. As of 23 October, over 710,000 people had gone back. Many are finding their property in ruins and family members killed. At present the situation in the Kasai region is far from stable and humanitarian access has only just become possible in many areas.
In total, over 762,000 people are displaced in the Kasai region. In Angola’s Lunda Norte province an additional 27,555 Congolese who have fled the Kasai conflict are being assisted by UNHCR and partners.
UNHCR is coordinating protection activities for the displaced from the Kasai conflict, returnees and other vulnerable civilians. We have also distributed basic relief items and are preparing additional support, particularly for the communities where returns take place.
In light of the situations in these three regions, UNHCR and partners have recently upgraded the situation in Democratic Republic of the Congo to level 3 – the highest level of emergency. UNHCR, as part of this response, will be fulfilling its responsibilities focusing on protection and assistance of the displaced populations, including through leadership of the Protection cluster.
In all, there are today some 621,711 refugees from the DRC in more than eleven African countries. And funding is urgently needed. Of some US$236.2 million required for the needs of refugees, IDPs and other people of concern in the DRC, only US$49.7 million has been received so far - a fifth of the amount required.
At the same time, the number of refugees from neighboring countries seeking refuge inside Democratic Republic of the Congo has grown by a third since early 2016 and now stands at 526,000 people. We continue to see new arrivals from Burundi, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.