The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is condemning the closure and destruction of a displaced persons camp in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The sudden development left several thousand people with no place to live.
OCHA spokesperson Nadia Berger said nearly 4,300 people were living at the Mokoto camp, about 70 kilometers northwest of Goma in eastern Congo’s North Kivu province.
"The site was burned down and people had to find shelter elsewhere," she said. "At the moment we do not really know where the people have gone. There is a team on the way to Mokoto to monitor the situation."
Berger said the provincial authorities announced their decision to close the camp about a week ago, on security grounds.
"The provincial authorities told us a firearm was found in one of the huts so they decided to close the camp because this was in contravention of the civilian character of the site," she said.
The head of OCHA in the DRC, Rein Paulsen, called the camp closure a “collective punishment imposed on vulnerable people.”
Berger said OCHA and other aid organizations tried to delay the closure, but without success.
"Our reaction and the reaction of the international community is, of course, we would have liked more time to prepare for this," she said. "We are not against closure of camps, but we want to do it in a proper manner, so there is enough time to let the displaced people decide where they want to go."
North Kivu has been wracked by violence between the government and various militia groups for years.
There are estimated to be about 600,000 displaced people in the province, of whom about 35 percent live in displacement sites. Local authorities have called for camp closures since 2014, and five camps were closed last year.
But aid workers said there needed to be more cooperation from the authorities in the search for long-term solutions for the displaced, including more efforts to give them access to land they can farm.