23 November 2012

Congo-Kinshasa: UNHCR Concerned About Situation of Displaced in North Kivu

  The African Union has called on M23 rebels to lay down their weapons and to leave the regional capital of eastern Democratic ... ( Resource: DR Congo Conflict Creates Refugee Crisis )

press release

Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo — With continuing fighting in North Kivu on Friday, UNHCR said it was extremely concerned about the situation of displaced Congolese civilians in the province, especially children and other vulnerable groups.

Normally, UNHCR oversees 31 displaced camps hosting 108,000 people in the eastern Congo province. "But the fighting has meant that we and our partners have not been able to access most of these. Only Mugunga III, just to the west of the provincial capital Goma, can be currently visited," said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards.

"There is an urgent need to provide food and medical assistance," Kouassi Lazare Etien, the head of UNHCR's office in Goma, said on Friday. He was able to visit Mugunga III on Thursday for the first time since the rebel M23 movement captured the city from government forces on Tuesday.

Etien said there were some 40,000 internally displaced people in Mugunga III and they had not received assistance for three or four days. But a large number had arrived from Rutshuru territory to the north of Goma and many of these had on Thursday started walking home as the area was now reported to be free of fighting.

The insecurity had prevented humanitarian organizations from resuming full assistance, but Etien said a head count was being conducted by local partners in Mugunga III on Friday to help gauge the numbers and determine the most vulnerable. UNHCR is also concerned about the situation of refugees in Goma.

The UNHCR official said Goma airport was still closed on Friday but the border crossing with Rwanda at Gisenyi was open and the road free.

But the UN refugee agency and other organizations are also worried about the fierce fighting around the town of Sake, 20 kilometres to the west of Goma, where government troops and militia appear to have put up stiff resistance to the M23 advance.

Edwards said the stepped up fighting "is causing thousands of civilians to flee the area. Our protection monitors are reporting many incidents of violence affecting civilians."

In Goma, meanwhile, more than 60 incidents of assault on civilians have been reported by UNHCR's partners. They say eight people have been killed and houses and shops have been looted.

According to the office of UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui, 16 children were injured by gunfire during the fighting between the M23 and Congolese armed forces. Another 500 unaccompanied minors, who were receiving assistance in Goma before the city's takeover, are now newly displaced or refugees in Rwanda.

UNHCR once again appeals to all parties to the conflict to avoid actions that place civilians in harm's way.

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