UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, is condemning the rise of militia group attacks on displaced people in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Armed groups mounted eight major deadly attacks against displaced people in Ituri province in just the first 10 days of this month.
UNHCR spokesman Boris Cheshirkov says displaced people in northeastern DRC have been targets of killings, kidnappings, looting of livestock and food, and other atrocities for years. But the intensity and brutality of these latest attacks, he says, are particularly shocking.
“Most recently, in the early hours of Tuesday, the 15th of February, militia fighters massacred 17 people with machetes in the locality of Lando, in Djugu territory. Eight children were among those killed. … A mother and her two children were burned alive as assailants set shelters ablaze,” Cheshirkov said.
One of the worst attacks occurred on February 1 when CODECO, an armed group composed of Lendu farmers, killed at least 62 displaced members of the Hema ethnic group.
Cheshirkov says more than 120 armed groups are operating in eastern DRC, so it is hard to know who is responsible for the current attacks in Ituri.
He says the UNHCR has increased security and surveillance in the displaced person camps it manages. Additionally, he says staff maintain close contact with U.N. peacekeeping soldiers in the area.
“We know that the authorities have also stepped up security across the region and introduced the state of siege back in May of last year. However, the attacks continue, and they intensify. People are killed, people are displaced and many of them have very, very serious humanitarian needs, and we have difficulties reaching them in many parts,” Cheshirkov said.
The U.N. agency reports there also have been brutal attacks against displaced people in Masisi territory in North Kivu province. It says conflicts in South Kivu have displaced at least 10,000 people this month.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says violence and conflict have displaced an average of 1 million people inside the DRC every year since 2016. Currently, there are more than 5.6 million displaced people in the country, the highest number in Africa.