17 February 2021 – UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is alarmed at ongoing atrocities carried out by armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According to the UNHCR these activities disrupt civilians’ lives, instill fear, and create havoc.
In 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners registered a record of more than 2000 civilians killed in the three eastern provinces (1240 in Ituri, 590 in North Kivu and 261 in South Kivu). Most of these attacks were attributed to armed groups.
The killings and kidnappings have continued in North Kivu in 2021, where attacks have also been directed against displaced civilians. On 24 January 2021, an armed group killed two men and seriously injured six others in an incursion into a site for forcibly displaced people in North Kivu’s Masisi Territory.
A week prior to the recent attack, three people living in Kivuye displacement site in Masisi Territory, which is supported by UNHCR, were kidnapped during raids by an armed group. This group has also imposed a 7 p.m. curfew in the area, after which they visit the residents’ houses to force ‘security’ payments.
According to the UNHCR and its partners they have heard numerous testimonies from people who have survived this targeted violence. Between December 2020 and January 2021, at least seven incursions by armed groups into five different sites have been reported in Masisi Territory.
More than 88 000 displaced people reside in 22 sites supported by UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Many others live in spontaneous sites – while some 90% are accommodated in host communities.
Attacks by armed groups are carried out on the suspicion of collaboration with other groups or the Congolese security forces. Some of these sites are under threat from multiple armed groups. Civilians find themselves trapped in the middle of confrontations between different groups.
The UNHCR has received reports of armed groups forcibly occupying schools and homes, prohibiting school activities, and attacking health centers, in Mweso, Masisi Territory and Lubero Territory.
In November 2020, armed groups introduced illegal taxes on people who want to access their farms in their villages of origin in Rutshuru Territory. This has cut off many from their only source of food and income. The displaced people cannot afford to pay these imposed taxes as they have no income, thereby compounding the situation.
While the Congolese army’s military operations against militia groups are more often successful than in the past, the armed forces do not have the capacity to maintain control of the areas they secure, thus leaving space for armed actors to reclaim those areas and to impose themselves on the local population.
In a recent report the UNHCR has called on all actors to respect the civilian and humanitarian character of displacement sites and is advocating for swift and independent investigations into the crimes committed so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice. “We are working with local authorities and communities to protect civilians in the affected areas by strengthening local capacity and creating synergies between different local authorities and grassroots initiatives. We are also closely monitoring the situation in most areas through local and international partners,” stated the report.
According to the UNHCR more than five million people have been uprooted by insecurity and violence in the DRC in the last two years, with nearly two million displaced in North Kivu Province alone. Efforts to help internally displaced people are facing severe funding shortfalls. So far only six per cent of the USD195- million that UNHCR needs for its vital operations in the DRC have been funded.