GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - In the last two months, the U.N. Refugee Agency reports more than 200,000 people have been forced to flee surging violence between the Lendu and Hema groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri Province.
The U.N. Refugee Agency says 5 million people have been uprooted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including 1.2 million in Ituri province. It reports the number of interethnic attacks and counterattacks between Lendu farmers and Hema herders continues to multiply, adding to the already intolerable misery of what is Africa’s largest displacement crisis.
U.N. monitors have recorded more than 3,000 serious human rights violations in Djugu territory, mainly occupied by the Hema, in the last 60 days. UNHCR spokesman, Charlie Yaxley says nearly 50 attacks are taking place on average every day against the local community.
“Displaced people have reported acts of extreme violence with at least 274 civilians killed with weapons such as machetes. More than 140 women were raped and almost 8,000 houses set on fire. The vast majority of those displaced are women and children, many of whom are now living under crowded circumstances with host families from the community,” he said.
Yaxley told VOA many others are forced to sleep in the open or in public buildings under very insecure conditions.
“That, in turn, is also making the social distancing required to prevent the spread of COVID-19 extremely difficult as we see many people living inside shelters … and, this again places them vulnerable to possible further attacks, vulnerable to the elements and with little protection in terms of preventing the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
The Lendu and Hema have been fighting sporadically for decades over valuable resources in their gold- and oil-rich province. Tensions in the region have been rising since December, following a government-led military operation against various armed groups.
U.N. and private agencies report access to Djugu and Mahagi territories is heavily restricted, making it difficult to reach those in dire need of assistance. The UNHCR reports it is working with other agencies to provide relief and to build more shelters for the displaced.
The agency reports only 18% of its $154 million appeal for the DRC has been received to date. It says this lack of funding, as well as the prevailing insecurity, is affecting its ability to provide essential relief to the thousands of displaced.