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Resources strained as thousands flee conflict in eastern Congo

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Urgent support needed for thousands displaced by six months of conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ituri and North Kivu provinces.

By Fabien Faivre and Carlinda Lopes in Drodro, Democratic Republic of the Congo | 12 November 2019

In June, armed men attacked Francine’s village in the Congo’s Ituri Province. She fled with her husband, two children and two nephews after her sister was killed. “I fled with my family during the night. We didn’t know where we were going but at least we were able to save our lives,” she says.

Francine arrived in the town of Drodro, finding shelter with 740 other families in an old church, transformed into a large dormitory. It was crowded and families sometimes had to sleep outside.

She was later relocated to a large temporary hall.

“I feel safer now as it provides more privacy and some measure of comfort,” says the 24-year-old.

Armed groups have staged six months of killings, rapes and abductions in this part of eastern Congo, forcing over 300,000 people to flee their homes.

Local communities are welcoming, but their hospitals and schools are stretched. In Drodro, some 16,000 internally displaced people have arrived in recent months, mostly women and children.

Like Francine, Denise, 22, also fled her village in June when armed men attacked.

“They came early in the morning, causing everyone to panic and flee in different directions,” she recalls. “Since then, I have no news from my husband or family.”

She prays every day that they are safe. Pregnant before she fled, she gave birth to her baby whom she called ‘Chance’ – luck in English – in a makeshift shelter. Later, she moved to a communal shelter set up by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

UNHCR expressed alarm today over the dire living conditions of the displaced and has stepped up its response to the growing crisis by constructing emergency shelters to help keep people safe. Basic items like blankets, laundry soap and jerry cans have also been distributed, while women and girls also receive sanitary items for their personal hygiene.

UNHCR needs US$ 150 million to respond to refugees and displaced people’s needs in Congo this year, but so far only 57 per cent has been received. Funding shortages are severely affecting the displaced people’s ability to meet their own basic needs and efforts to be self-reliant.

Sendralahatra Rakontondradalo, a UNHCR shelter expert, witnessed the dire conditions as people arrived in Drodro without any belongings.

Inadequate conditions expose people to harassment, assault and exploitation.

“I have heard of some girls and women being forced into survival sex to feed themselves and their families. Overcrowded places have limited privacy, increasing this risk,” she said.

Liz Ahua, UNHCR’s Representative in the country, said the number of displaced people is rising.

“Thousands of displaced people want to return home but have to wait until the situation is safer,” she said.