GENEVA — The United Nations refugee agency is appealing for nearly $40 million to help almost half a million forcibly displaced civilians in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and in neighboring Uganda and Rwanda. UNHCR warns the number of displaced people in the eastern provinces could rise to more than 750,000 in the coming months.
The humanitarian situation in North Kivu, South Kivu and Orientale provinces has greatly deteriorated since fighting erupted in North Kivu province between Congolese government forces and the M23 rebel movement in April.
The UNHCR declared eastern Congo in a state of emergency last May in response to huge displacements caused by the violence. Fighting between Mai Mai militia and the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda also forced many people to flee their homes in South Kivu.
U.N. refugee spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming says a power vacuum in parts of the east has caused further insecurity and suffering for civilians. But she notes the large number of human-rights violations in North and South Kivu is particularly alarming.
"More than 15,000, what we call protection incidents, that is incidents that have been reported to us, which include murder, rape and forced recruitment," said Fleming. "This is just since April and we expect that that number is probably much higher as in cases of sexual violence, for example, very many people in this culture do not come forward and report. So, we believe that these violations are rampant and it is just a very, very difficult situation."
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UNHCR says insecurity and the remoteness of sites for Internally Displaced People create problems for aid delivery and protection monitoring.
In Rwanda, the agency cites scarcity of land as the main challenge. And, in Uganda, it says the remoteness of the area and lack of access, lack of infrastructure and basic services pose major problems for assistance.
Fleming says it is somewhat easier for aid agencies to help the Congolese refugees in camps in Rwanda and Uganda. This, she says, is because once refugees cross an international border, they are protected and safe from the violence in their homeland.
The UNHCR runs 31 camps in North Kivu for more than 127,000 new Internally Displaced People. Fleming says people in these camps never feel secure, particularly when they have to wander out and collect firewood and water. She says this puts them in very precarious situations.
"The money is for obviously improving shelter and the relief items, etc. But because this situation of sexual violence is so prevalent, there is also a program aimed at prevention and protection against sexual violence inside the country, as well as psychological support for victims of rape," Fleming added.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports almost two million people are internally displaced in eastern DRC. This includes about 220,000 forced to flee their homes since April in North Kivu, 108,000 in South Kivu and 62,000 in Orientale.