The UN refugee agency continues to relocate thousands of people in the eastern DRC further away from the frontlines. The UNHCR says it's moving those who have volunteered to leave two camps in Kibati, which have been the frequent targets of violence and looting by members of armed groups, including government soldiers.
David Nthengwe is a spokesman for the UNHCR. From Goma, he gave VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua an update on the relocation efforts.
"We have been able to move persons with specific needs. They are referred to as disabled people…women, pregnant women, older persons…also persons with chronic disease. And now were close to a thousand persons of specific needs that we have transferred since the 28th of November from Kibati camp to Mugunga One. Now today we have just moved 60 families, which is around 228 individuals, going to Mugunga One. However, space in Mugunga One is now full. What we are doing now is trying to move the other families to the new site (Mugunga Three) if and when we are sure it is ready over the weekend," he says.
Nthengwe says the pace of relocation was slowed because of shooting in the camp last Sunday. "There was shooting by the (national) police in the camp…and two displaced people were wounded…. We have instituted an investigation into the shooting. But late in the night there was again shooting by suspected armed soldiers in the camp and…another three people were wounded and taken to the hospital. We are told the soldiers were on a looting spree," he says.
The UNHCR has received some good news about the new Mugunga Three site – that more people than originally estimated could be relocated there. "The new site has just been extended. The government, the provincial operators here, have given us extra land space and now we have (gone) from 65 hectares…(to) at least 105 hectares. Now, this is almost double the space that we were given in the first place, meaning that we will almost double to relocation of people to that place," he says.
There are currently 65,000 displaced people at the Kibati camps and up to 50,000 are expected to be relocated. But the relocation is voluntary and some may choose to remain in Kibati because their homes and farms are in the area and wish to stay nearby. Asked what would happen to those who refuse to move, Nthengwe says, "This is one of the $65 million questions. The reason being, that if there are any displaced people who might wish not to transfer, this will require that we put in place extra security measures for these people to be safe. But it's very difficult to guarantee that any security measure would be able to protect them from any danger coming from the fighting." Kibati is close to the frontlines between the forces of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda and government troops.
The UNHCR spokesman says the other camps for the displaced, west of Goma, are relative safe.