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UN Appeals for Congolese Displaced by Escalating Violence

A newly arrived refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo carries her belongings at a makeshift refugee camp at Bunagana near Kisoro town in Uganda, May 15, 2012.
GENEVA - The World Food Program (WFP) is urgently appealing for $46 million to provide life-saving assistance to hundreds of thousands of people displaced by fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo's volatile east.

According to the U.N. agency, escalating violence has forced thousands to flee their homes, seeking refuge near Goma or elsewhere in the region. Thousands more have been making the arduous trek across the Rwandan and Ugandan borders in search of refuge.

People feel terrorized, said World Food Program spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs, not knowing whether their village will be the next to be attacked and pillaged by armed groups, who typically arrive at night.

“They kill the parents in front of their children’s eyes. They rape women," Brys said. "We have more and more witnesses and people who have been raped -- women who have been raped coming to see all the humanitarian workers present in the field and telling them awful stories, and in particular those children traumatized who have seen their parents killed in front of their eyes.”
There appears to be no end to this violence, added Byrs. And this means more people will require humanitarian assistance in the coming months.

The WFP currently is providing emergency food for more than one-half million people. More than half this number are internally displaced in the Congolese provinces of North and South Kivu. The others are refugees in Uganda and Rwanda.

Byrs said WFP is running a shortfall of $46 million for its programs in the three countries. The funding gap must be closed, she said, so the agency can carry out its life-saving operations over the next six months.

“I think it is a forgotten conflict. Everything is focused on Syria at the moment. But we should not forget Africa. We should not forget the DRC. This long-lasting conflict, violence, this story of human rights violations, rapes and this continuously displaced population lacking of everything,” Byrs said.

Eastern Congo, especially North Kivu, has remained in a constant state of upheaval since the end of a civil war in 2003. Both rebel groups and local militia operate in the region, fighting the army and resisting attempts to make them lay down their arms.

Byrs said WFP’s priority is to provide assistance to the refugees and newly displaced people. At the same time, she said the agency -- which has already scaled back operations due to a lack of funds -- needs money to keep running its regular programs. Byrs warned more programs will have to be cut if donors do not provide the needed money.