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UN Refugee Agency to Transfer Thousands of DRC Displaced to Safer Locations

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, is ready to transfer tens of thousands of people in the eastern DRC to safer locations. The agency says residents of the Kibati camp in North Kivu Province live in fear of attacks and looting by various armed groups.

UNHCR spokesman David Nthengwe says at least half of Kibati's 65,000 residents are expected to be re-located. Right now, they're close to the frontlines of fighting between government troops and rebels. And armed fighters are frequent uninvited visitors. Nthengwe describes some of the violence at Kibati in the past two weeks.

"Because of shooting nearby, many of them panicked and started fleeing towards Goma town. And then last week, at night, soldiers looted the camp and they started shooting in the air. And soldiers attempted to kidnap one lady. In the process they were shooting again and another lady was shot apparently by a stray bullet and she died immediately," he says.

UNHCR is currently working on a new site where most of those, who leave Kibati, will eventually be transferred. It's called Mugunga III. But Nthengwe says there's much work to be done before it's ready for occupancy.

"Well, what we've done so far is to level some of the areas. As you know, Goma is a volcanic area and in 2002 there was this eruption. So the surface of Goma, the entire town, is covered in hard rock, this lava rock. So, our priority has been to try and establish facilities for the camp – toilets, water system and to make sure that the mapping of the plots for the people to shelter themselves is also done," he says.

However, until Mugunga III is ready, some displaced persons voluntarily leaving the Kibati camp will be taken to other existing camps.

Nthengwe says, "For those scheduled to go to Bulengo and Buhimba and Mugunga I and II, these are vulnerable persons. We would like to move these ones first because they'll be moving in existing camps, where services are already running. And then in time, we will be finishing Mugunga III and that's when we'll start now moving the other category of the population to the new site, when the facilities are ready."

The very young and the elderly will be moved to the new locations by truck. The rest will walk the 15 kilometers. Aid stations will be set up along the route.

"We have also identified way stations, possible areas where we will set up way stations for people to have water, for people to help themselves if they need to relieve themselves. We will place there some high-energy biscuits. And then there will also be medical personnel on the way for the sick, while MONUC peacekeepers will also be positioned along the route for the safety of these people," Nthengwe says.

The U.N. peacekeepers are also starting night patrols around the Kibati camp to try to stop looting and violence, including widespread rape. Aid agencies blame all armed groups for the sexual assaults.

Meanwhile, in South Kivu Province, UNHCR is moving to help tens of thousands of displaced people. It's planning to build a camp at Minova, close to the border with North Kivu.