This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
GENEVA – UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is greatly alarmed as violent clashes between non-state armed groups and government forces drive hundreds of thousands to flee their homes in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In February alone, nearly 300,000 people fled across Rutshuru and Masisi territories in North Kivu Province.
UNHCR teams and partners are mapping the displacement and the needs of those forced to flee. Violence has particularly surged from the Kitchanga region in Masisi territory towards the strategically important city of Sake, with 49,000 people displaced in the week of 17 February. In the locality of Kibirizi in Rutshuru territory, a further 20,000 fled during the week of 6 March.
Civilians continue to pay the heavy and bloody price of conflict, including women and children who barely escaped the violence and are now sleeping out in the open air in spontaneous or organized sites, exhausted and traumatised. The resurgence of violence in the region has displaced over 800,000 people since March last year, including towards the provinces of South Kivu and Ituri.
The needs of vulnerable displaced populations are multiplying as already dire conditions deteriorate and resources in overcrowded locations buckle under the strain of new arrivals. UNHCR teams on the ground reported horrifying testimonies of human rights violations in affected areas, especially in Rutshuru and Masisi territories, including arbitrary killings, kidnappings, extortion and rapes. Where access permits, UNHCR teams are positioned to provide psychosocial counselling and community support to manage the traumas that displaced people are experiencing.
UNHCR and partners are urgently scaling up humanitarian and protection assistance to tackle urgent needs stemming from overcrowding and inadequate shelter in spontaneous sites, as well as limited access to food and clean water.
With our partners, we have relocated more than 14,000 vulnerable, displaced people to Buchagara displacement site, 5 kilometres from Goma, North Kivu’s provincial capital where they received emergency shelter. Further relief is planned this month in the form of kits containing blankets and jerrycans for water. However, the growing needs are outstripping the available resources at a dramatic rate.
While all efforts are made to provide protection and assistance to those displaced close to Goma, UNHCR is deeply concerned about restricted humanitarian access to displaced populations in other parts of North Kivu Province as the major routes to those impacted areas have frequently been inaccessible in recent months as a result of the on-going conflict.
More than 5,500 people have also crossed the border into neighbouring Rwanda since January, and a further 5,300 into Uganda as insecurity and violence continue to ravage the border regions.
UNHCR strongly reiterates its call on all actors in eastern DRC to stop the violence which is taking an enormous toll on the civilian population.
The DRC is the largest internal displacement crisis in Africa, with 5.8 million people internally displaced, mainly in the east of the country. It also hosts over a million refugees from neighbouring countries.
It is also one of UNHCR’s most underfunded operations worldwide. For 2023, UNHCR is asking for US$232.6 million to assist internally displaced people and refugees in the DRC. As of today, the DRC operation is only 8 per cent funded.
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