A recent United Nations mission to the Kasai region in the Democratic Republic of Congo reports more than a year of fighting between the government and local armed groups has caused widespread destruction and enormous human suffering.
Improved humanitarian access to conflict-ridden Kasai has made it possible for U.N. refugee staff to go to the territory of Kamonia at the DRC’s border with Angola to assess the situation.
This was the first time UNHCR could go to this area since the killing of a tribal chief by government soldiers triggered fighting between them and a local militia in August 2016.
UNHCR spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly says the agency’s staff saw entire villages burned down, civilians in dire condition and rampant lawlessness.
“Local armed groups have systematically destroyed or pillaged health posts, schools and public buildings. Hundreds of children have been separated from their parents or have witnessed their murders. Elderly, disabled or sick people also are at serious risk.”
The UNHCR estimates the conflict has displaced about 1.4 million people. Another 33,000 refugees have fled to neighboring Angola. Pouilly tells VOA the number of refugees arriving in Angola has declined drastically since July.
“We have no full account of what is happening. But, according to those we have been able to talk to and who have newly arrived, we understand that the main roads to the border are largely blocked, and so people who want to flee are forced to use unofficial border entry points.”
Despite the critical situation, Pouilly says some Congolese refugees have spontaneously returned to Kasai, without explanation. She says many have found their homes destroyed and are forced to live as displaced people.