GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency reports more than 100,000 civilians have fled worsening conditions in DR Congo’s eastern Beni Territory over the past two months. The UNHCR says attacks by armed groups in the so-called Watalinga Chiefdom, near the border with Uganda, have sent thousands of people fleeing for their lives.
Attacks on villages and towns by armed groups in Congo’s lawless eastern borderland have been rising since December. This has prompted mass flight by the residents to the town of Nobili and surrounding areas.
The U.N. refugee agency says many of those fleeing previously had been displaced. They had fled violence in April and only just returned to their villages in November. UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, says the displaced are in dire need of assistance.
“Tensions in the region have been rising since the launch of the government-led military operation in December against the Allied Democratic Forces or ADF," said Mahecic. "Civilians, including those displaced in November and December, are among those targeted by armed groups, including the ADF… Many people told UNHCR staff that they now live in fear, after witnessing killings, sexual violence and abductions.”
The ADF, a Ugandan Islamist group, is one of many armed groups vying for influence in the region. Local authorities estimate 252 civilians have been killed in Beni Territory since December.
Mahecic says the majority of those who have fled to Nobili are being sheltered by local host communities. Others, he says, are crammed into schools and churches.
“Thousands more are living in dire conditions across 100 or so informal settlements, sleeping in huts made of branches," said Mahecic. "They are also exposed to elements and face serious threats to their safety, protection, including the lack of privacy.”
Mahecic says the vast majority of displaced persons are women and children in urgent need of basic assistance and protection. He says food, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene are scarce. And thousands of homeless children have little or no access to education.
More than 5 million people are displaced in DRC, the largest number in Africa. The UNHCR says money is scarce to care for this huge population of internally displaced.
The agency says the international community has donated only four percent of the $150 million it needs to assist millions of refugees and internally displaced in Congo this year.