LAKE ALBERT – Violence in north-eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is reported to have displaced more than 300,000 since early June.
The situation in Ituri Province has deteriorated since the middle of last week, with multiple attacks involving the Hema and Lendu groups.
Inter-ethnic attacks between the two communities had already led to widespread displacement in late 2017 and early 2018, but the situation had calmed.
Large-scale displacement is reported in three of Ituri’s five administrative territories: Djugu, Mahagi and Irumu. People are fleeing attacks and counter attacks in Djugu Territory, with reports of both communities forming self-defense groups and being involved in revenge killings.
The estimates have been received from local sources in 125 locations. UNHCR and other humanitarian actors do not at present have access to most of the affected areas.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, fears this escalation could engulf large parts of the province. We are gravely concerned for the safety of civilians after receiving reports of killings, kidnappings, maiming and sexual violence being unleashed against people.
The majority of the displaced have sought shelter with the host communities. Some 30,000 arrived in existing displacement sites where conditions were already dire, with many needs including shelter and health.
Military operations are currently reported to be underway in Djugu territory to bring the situation under control.
UNHCR with its partners is working with the authorities to get a clearer picture as the displaced are in urgent need of shelter, basic household items and food. People are now sleeping in the open or in public buildings, with the biggest concentration of displaced people being 10,000 sleeping in or near the church in Drodro, Djugu Territory, without any viable assistance.
According to UNHCR early 20,000 people have reached Ituri’s provincial capital, Bunia and that efforts are underway to identify suitable sites around the city.
Many more people are trying to get to the relative safety of sites near Bunia but are reportedly blocked by armed youth from both ethnic groups while majority of them are trying to cross Lake Albert to Uganda.
The humanitarian response is already over-stretched in this part of DRC with a series of other emergencies in the north-eastern region, and volatile security situation with little funding being available.
South of Ituri, in North Kivu province, UNHCR has recently begun an emergency response for nearly 100,000 displaced people in Nobili, near the border with Uganda.
DRC has an estimated 4.5 million internally displaced people. New displacement has been observed lately primarily in the eastern provinces, including Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu provinces.
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.