5 October 2007 As civilians in the troubled North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continue to flee their homes, the United Nations refugee agency today warned that the humanitarian disaster there could worsen if a military build-up the volatile area leads to more intensified fighting.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that some 5,000 internally displaced people sought refuge at nearby sites over the past week, taking advantage of a lull in the fighting between government forces, renegade troops and rebels. “Some had walked for days to reach the sites,” agency spokesman Ron Redmond told a press briefing in Geneva.
The estimated total of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Mugunga area has now surpassed 80,000. UN agencies and non-governmental organizations say over 370,000 IDPs are though to have been displaced in North Kivu since December 2006.
“The numbers of displaced are rising with the new arrivals at the camp sites, but also as aid workers in the field discover more groups of displaced people,” Mr. Redmond explained.
He said the agency is “increasingly concerned over the build-up of forces and military supplies in North Kivu,” especially the reported recruitment of child soldiers by armed groups across North Kivu. “We fear new clashes would lead to thousands of people being displaced, plunging the province into an even worse humanitarian disaster.”
Following a visit to the area to improve conditions in overstretched IDP camps, a seven-member UNHCR emergency team is now preparing a new site with the capacity to host 10,000 people.
“The new site will help decongest makeshift sites at Lac Vert and Ndosho,” said Mr. Redmond. “Conditions at the makeshift sites in the Mugunga area are dire and are deteriorating as more fleeing Congolese arrive. Tensions are mounting among the displaced and two days ago our team could not visit these sites due to safety concerns for the staff.”
The agency is working with its non-governmental partners to register displaced in the area in a bid to establish more precise numbers to better plan for aid distributions.