Bukavu — Humanitarian agencies working in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo have been overwhelmed following a massive displacement triggered by fighting between the Congolese army (FARDC) and rebel movement M23 in North Kivu.
“The situation is truly precarious. There is no medicine, no food. Children could die. People are spending the night outside, each one beside their baggage, and it is very cold,” says Roger Manegabe, head of a family who managed to reach Bukavu from North Kivu.
“We’re missing school. We’re hungry, there’s no drinking water, there’s no electricity. I’m 16 years old and war is all I’ve known from the time I was born. What will become of us?” said Fiston, Manegabe’s son.
Since the start of the year, conflict in the two Kivu provinces — militias in South Kivu have also clashed — has exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation and uprooted nearly 650,000 people, according to U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesperson Adrian Edwards.
Manegaba’s family is among some 250,000 civilians newly displaced since April in North Kivu, and a further 339,000 in South Kivu. According to Edwards, during this period more than 40,000 people also fled to Uganda and 15,000 others to Rwanda. And since August, Burundi has received nearly 1,000 new Congolese refugees.
Rebel fighters captured Goma, the province’s largest city, on Nov. 20, and Sake the following day, before their advance stalled.
M23 was launched on Mar. 12 with a mutiny of Congolese army officers and soldiers. It is now putting forward a broad set of demands covering politics, social issues, human rights and governance. The movement is demanding direct talks with Congolese President Joseph Kabila as a precondition for retreating from Goma.
The group’s political spokesperson, Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero, held a preliminary meeting on Sunday Nov. 25 with Kabila in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, following a regional summit on the crisis in eastern DRC.
More than 30,000 people who fled the Kanyaruchinya sector in North Kivu have found refuge at a camp in Mugunga, swelling the total numbers there to 40,000. They told the UNHCR representative in the province, Lazard-Etienne Kouassi, who visited the camp on Nov. 22, that they had not received food since their arrival and that they were eager to go back to their villages.