Escalating violence displaces over 200,000 people in eastern Congo


More than 200,000 people, mostly women and children, have fled in two months because of surging violence since March in Inturi, 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.

Tensions have been on the rise since December 2019 with the launch of a government-led military operation against various armed groups operating in the area. Violence has surged since mid-March as the number of counter-attacks by armed groups has multiplied.

In Ituri province, UNHCR and its partners have recorded more than 3,000 serious human rights violations in Djugu Territory in the last 60 days, arising from almost 50 attacks against the local population on average every day.

Displaced persons 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.

Consistent with earlier patterns, the vast majority of those displaced are women and children, many of whom are now living under crowded circumstances with host families. Others are sleeping in the open or in public buildings such as schools which are currently not in use to due to COVID-19 measures.

Both the displaced people and their hosts have been rendered vulnerable by these repetitive attacks, counterattacks and continued violence.

Yaxley said the UNHCR is concerned for the safety of the displaced people and fears that the lack of humanitarian assistance will 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. (Source: UNHCR)