Hundreds of thousands flee violence in eastern DR Congo

Soldiers from the UN's Monusco mission pictured on March 13, 2020 in the violence-torn Djugu territory of Ituri province, in eastern DR Congo.
Soldiers from the UN's Monusco mission pictured on March 13, 2020 in the violence-torn Djugu territory of Ituri province, in eastern DR Congo. © Samir Tounsi, AFP

More than 200,000 people, mostly women and children, have fled surging violence in Ituri since March in the Democratic Republic of Congo's volatile east, the UN said Friday.


Tensions have been rising in Ituri since last December with the launch of a government-led military operation against various armed groups in the region.

"The UN refugee agency remains alarmed at an ongoing surge in violent attacks on local populations in the Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where more than 200,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in just two months," agency spokesman Charlie Yaxley told a virtual briefing.

"UNHCR is calling on all sides involved in the conflict to respect civilian lives and humanitarian work," he said.

DR Congo already counts some five million displaced people, including 1.2 million in Ituri, he said.

A UN report in January said more than 700 civilians had been killed in Ituri since the end of 2017.

Yaxely said the UNHCR and its partners had since March recorded more than 3,000 serious human rights violations in Djugu territory alone, linked to an average of nearly 50 attacks against the local population every day.

"Displaced persons have reported acts of extreme violence with at least 274 civilians killed with weapons such as machetes," he said, adding that more than 140 women had reported being raped while nearly 8,000 houses had been set alight.

"The vast majority of those displaced are women and children, many of whom are now living under crowded circumstances with host families," he said.

Others, he said, were sleeping in the open, or camping in public buildings like schools, which are currently not in use due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of those who had dared to return home were subjected to fresh attacks.

On April 24, four returnees were reportedly killed in Nyangaray town, while another 20 families were kidnapped by an armed group, while two returnees to Mahagi territory were reportedly buried alive by a group of armed men, who accused them of stealing the equivalent of $6, UNHCR said.

Yaxley said the United Nations was deeply concerned "for the safety of the displaced people".

At the same time, lacking access for aid workers and deep funding shortages risked leaving them vulnerable to hunger and could "have a huge impact as income opportunities have been reduced with the COVID-19 pandemic."

"UNHCR and its partners are working to assist with relief supplies and constructing more shelters for the newly displaced," he said, adding though that such sites were rapidly becoming overcrowded.


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